Barbara Van Cleve is fiercely independent and so are the cowgirls she photographs.
The images of lady ranchers and rodeo riders she has taken over her long career as a photographer convey a pride of self-reliance, determination, and daring beyond measure. It’s something women in all walks of life hope to possess.
Many of Barbara’s pictures were taken from the back of her horse as she traveled the American West. She is a respectful observer peering in with awe at the vibrant and authentic characters she sees. Her eye for detail, light, and composition enabled her to capture stirring images of hard-working ladies; images she trusts will plant a seed in younger generations of women to carry on the tradition of ranching.
Barbara was raised on the Lazy K Bar ranch near Melville, Montana, attended college at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and began her professional career in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She admits her decision to become a photographer has been a journey of love. She is self-taught and humbly credits her independence as the reason she is seen as an inspiration to others. Both her father and her grandfather encouraged her to be exactly what she wanted to be. Barbara wanted to take pictures of the dedicated individuals who went beyond the stereotype of ranching women; the women who weren’t afraid to do what needed to be done to maintain and improve a ranch successfully.
Barbara’s work has been featured in numerous galleries and museums and five bestselling books showcase the images she has devoted her career to recording. “I have a passion to share how wonderful ranch life truly is,” Barbara noted. “Of course it’s hard, but there are real and beautiful aspects of ranch life too.”
In 1995, Barbara was honored with an induction into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. It’s one of many accolades she has received over the duration of her career. When she’s not taking pictures she shares her knowledge of photography at workshops where adults and high school students eagerly seek her instruction. “I give them the tools to use and work with,” Barbara explained, happily. “I help them to learn to see and take the shot that will document a certain time and an unforgettable place.”
Pure Quill: Photographs by Barbara Van Cleve is the title of her latest book. Published by the University of New Mexico Pure Quill is a compilation of photographs that dispel the myths associated with the West, while conveying its true adventure and compelling drama.