2011 Benefit & Auction Spotlight: Jane Hilton

Pat Meinzer, Cowboy, Benjamin, Texas 2009 © Jane Hilton/ Nailya Alexander Gallery

Jane Hilton is one of the many great artists featured in our 2011 Benefit and Auction. Her photograph Pat Meinzer, Cowboy, Benjamin, Texas will be up for bidding during the evening’s Live Auction. Inspired by a commission in 2006 to photograph a 17 year old cowboy, Jeremiah Karsten, who traveled 4,000 miles on horseback from his native Alaska to Mexico, Jane set off on her own four year pilgrimage, criss-crossing the cowboy states of Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas, New Mexico and Wyoming to capture America’s 21st century cowboys which has culminated in her recently published book – Dead Eagle Trail. This particular image was nominated for the 2010 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize and exhibited at The National Portrait Gallery as a runner up. She writes, of the image:

“This portrait is one of a series of cowboys I photographed in their homes, from the buckaroos of Nevada to the cowpunchers of Arizona and Texas. The paradox of photographing a cowboy at home, and showing their obsession with the lifestyle was much more fascinating to me, than photographing them on a horse.

A window acts as a constant reminder to the outside world. All of them were shocked that I wanted to go inside their houses, and sometimes even their bedrooms where they spend the least time. But it was much more interesting to see them in less familiar territory, revealing their softer and possibly more feminine side. They were always immaculate despite the harshness of their working environment. It is the contradictions that are infinitely more enlightening.

Pate’s bedroom clearly demonstrates a feminine touch by his wife, with their wedding photographs and religious icons on the walls. Most of the cowboys I photographed had a strong sense of spirituality. As one cowboy told me, “I don’t need to go to church. My horse is my church and I am out with God everyday.”

Freedom is a cowboys’ life. Most were brought up on ranches where it was always hard work and never particularly profitable. Even today a cowboy can expect to earn only a few dollars an hour, but this is not what drives them. Real cowboys boast of never having met a stranger, most can’t swim. All of them have a John Wayne story they love to share. This series is a celebration of The West as it is now. Nobody can predict whether in a hundred year’s time the cowboy will still be around.”

Jane Hilton is a photographer and filmmaker living in London. The contradictions in American society and the American dream are recurring themes in her work. She filmed a documentary series for the BBC, “The Brothel / Love For Sale,” as well as a series of exhibitions on desert landscapes, pimps and prostitutes. Jane’s work is regularly published in The Sunday Times Magazine and The Telegraph Magazine.

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