By Helen Olsson By Helen Olsson | November 18, 2021 | Culture Culture Feature Style Art
A SCOTTISH FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHER BRINGS THE AMERICAN WILD WEST TO THE 21ST CENTURY WITH ARRESTING IMAGERY.
AT 6AM ON A COLD DAY LAST MARCH, a hundred locals in Creede, Colo., including the town’s theater troupe—dressed as miners circa 1893— gathered near an abandoned silver mine. The town hadn’t been this busy since Johnny Depp came in 2012 to shoot The Lone Ranger. The occasion: David Yarrow (@davidyarrow, davidyarrow.photography), one of the world’s bestselling fine art photographers, was in town working on his latest Wild West series.
Last winter, he and his production crew spent more than 100 days traveling the West, capturing stunning monochromatic imagery that serves as an homage to the American frontier. Colorado backdrops also included Telluride, Durango and Silverton. Yarrow’s highly stylized images are on display in galleries across Europe and North America, some fetching more than $100,000 at auction.
“The Snow Patrol,” Norwood, Colo.
“Bonnie,” Creede, Colo.
“The Iron Horse,” Durango, Colo.
“THERE’S AN INTRICACY TO THE COMPOSITION. IN A PHOTOGRAPH, EVERY INCH OF THE FRAME HAS TO EARN ITS RIGHT TO BE THERE. EVERYTHING MUST SWEAT.”–PHOTOGRAPHER DAVID YARROW
“No Currency,” Schmid Ranch, Telluride, Colo.
If Yarrow’s photos look like outtakes from Hollywood films, it’s no coincidence. “All my heroes are cinematographers,” says Yarrow, who draws inspiration from Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Like those filmmakers, he uses layered narratives to make his photos. He brings in top models like Cindy Crawford— often shooting with domesticated Tamaskans, a rare dog breed that’s genetically 96% wolf—but in Colorado, supermodel Cara Delevingne played the starring role.
Yarrow shot “Bonnie” on Creede’s high street, where an enormous rock at the end of town offers a dramatic backdrop. “It adds to the sense of the final frontier, the sense of journey’s end,” he says. “We just needed the story to go with the canvas.” Everything in the image is perfectly positioned and endorses the Bonnie and Clyde narrative. The 1930s car, the Tommy gun, her dress. Even the advertisement on the side of the brick building evokes the Prohibition era. “There’s an intricacy to the composition,” Yarrow says. “In a photograph, every inch of the frame has to earn its right to be there. Everything must sweat.”
“Go West Young Man,” Telluride, Colo.
For “The Iron Horse,” Yarrow’s team rented the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad’s steam train for a two-day shoot. His vision was to have outlaws on horses at the track’s edge, with the dramatic San Juans and Animas River as a backdrop. “It was a last-minute decision to have someone who wasn’t on a horse—to lend compositional balance,” Yarrow says. “There’s a deliberate anonymity to him.” The narrow-gauge track has changed little since the railroad opened in 1882 and the train itself is original. Positioning the horses on a cliff edge with a steam engine coming around the bend was a tricky proposition. “That was something we were nervous about, with the smoke and the steam and the noise.”
“Go West Young Man” was shot on Telluride’s main street, blissfully car-free. Yarrow loves shooting in box canyons, or scenarios that approximate a box canyon like Chicago’s LaSalle Street and the Board of Trade building. “Whether they be in cities or rural areas, box canyons are fantastic for photographers because they lead the eye and they finish the story,” Yarrow says. “In Telluride, you’ve just got this massive mountain bullying the town below. It makes it cinematic.” A lot of photographers make the mistake of having a picture where the foreground is loose, the photographer says. “The camera has got to bump into something quickly, which is why we use wide-angle lenses.”
The Schmid Ranch, 10 miles west of Telluride, where Quentin Tarantino filmed The Hateful Eight, set the scene for “No Currency.” This anachronistic image was made around the narrative of a deadly standoff, with rough characters defending their assets with conviction. Adding the contemporary idea of cryptocurrency adds a cheeky touch. At the ranch, the crew built the facade of the Bitcoin Saloon to add that layer, then built storytelling around it. “I take myself seriously in terms of the execution,” Yarrow says. “But I think it’s important to have a bit of levity in the whole thing.”
Photography by: By David Yarrow