Smith wanted his photographs to capture the entire cowboy culture—the varied responsibilities, the characteristic techniques relating to managing cattle, and the unique talents of the legendary men and horses. He also intended to document all the people involved in cowboy life, from the range boss to the wrangler to the cook. Before embarking on his photographic trips, Smith corresponded with ranch bosses, asking about an outfit's size, working methods, and what activities were upcoming. His photographs captured the daily drama of the cowhand's job, from the graceful art of roping and busting broncs to the task of butchering cattle.
Smith held a romantic view of the cowboy's daily life and tried repeatedly to capture in photographs some of his favorite scenes. One such image is of a range boss "telling off his riders" (giving them their assignments for the day). Smith photographed this view from behind the subjects, showing the boss pointing at the distant landscape, so that viewers could see the intended destination and imagine that they themselves were among the cowhands about to ride off for a hard day's work.
Erwin E. Smith (1886–1947)
"Pink" Murray, Wagon Boss of the OR Outfit Telling His Men Off for the Day's Work, OR Range, Arizona, 1909
Gelatin dry plate negative
Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on deposit at the Amon Carter Museum