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  • Erwin E. Smith lived in Bonham, Texas (Fannin County), as a young boy. He became obsessed with cowboys and the desire to become a cowboy himself. He spent time at his uncle’s ranch in Foard County and would hear the cowhands’ stories about how the frontier and the open range were disappearing.
  • Smith received his first camera as a teenager.
  • He received formal art training in sculpture and painting at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, but he did not study photography.
  • While pursuing his art training in the East, Smith began to understand the value of photography as a means of making an immediate record. Instead of following his plan to make sculptures and paintings of cowboys, he chose photography as his medium of expression.
  • Smith wanted to document the vanishing way of life of the open-range cowhand, and he was especially interested in capturing the hard work the cowboy performed.
  • From 1905 to 1912 Smith traveled during summers to different ranches in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, where he worked as a cowhand and photographer.
  • Smith wanted to reinstate the nobility of the cowboy that books and movies of the time were parodying. Popular literature, the art of Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, and the dawning film industry promoted a romantic, yet often inaccurate, image of the cowboy.
 
Erwin E. Smith (1886–1947)
Standing Pose of Erwin E. Smith (as cowboy), 1907
Glass plate negative
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
P1986.41.028
 
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