Shooting Cowboys


184 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-895618-95-9
DDC 971.2'0022'2





Reviewed by Michael Payne

Michael Payne is head of the Research and Publications Program at the
Historic Sites and Archives Service, Alberta Community Development, and
the co-author of A Narrative History of Fort Dunvegan.


This is the third book of archival photographs undertaken by Brock
Silversides for Fifth House Publishers. His previous books explored
mountain photography and historical images of Western Canada’s Native
peoples. This book documents another staple of Western Canadiana: the
cowboy (along with the occasional cowgirl and cowkid).

Silversides begins with a useful essay on the history of photographing
cowboys, livestock, rodeos, and associated subjects. The earliest photos
of cowboys in Canada date to the early 1880s, making them some of the
oldest images of Western Canada. Indeed, by the mid-1880s there were
professional photographers, such as Hanson Boorne and Sydney Smyth, who
specialized in ranch photography. The skills required to photograph
cattle drives and prize bulls were considerable, combining horsemanship,
patience, and muscle to lug heavy view cameras and glass-plate negatives
around ranches. Photographers needed experience to know how best to
capture the excitement and action of rodeo competition or to document
the confusion and energy of round-ups.

Short introductions to each of the sections of the book work well to
set the following photographs in context. It is a testimony to the power
of the cowboy in popular culture that just one of the sections details
the “working” cowboy, as opposed to the “competitive” or rodeo
cowboy, the cowboy as artist and entertainer, and cowboy miscellany.

As an audio-visual archivist, Silversides has an excellent eye for
images that balance visual appeal with historical interest. He has also
made a concerted effort to select photographs that reflect the diversity
of cowboy experience. The book balances the work of professional and
amateur photographers, and gives considerable space to several women
photographers who produced outstanding work documenting cowboy culture
and life.

Many compilations of archival photographs and illustrated histories are
disappointing because readers have already seen most of the images many,
many times before. Shooting Cowboys does include some photographs that
fall into this category, but most are as fresh and appealing as the book


Silversides, Brock V., “Shooting Cowboys,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 15, 2024,