Riding side saddle

Courtesy of McCarson Jones/Red Scarf Shots

Kendall Smith is bookended by Gypsy and Blaze for her “Riding Side Saddle” portrait, taken on a ranch between Durango and Bayfield.

By Ted Holteen Herald staff writer

Try something different and you just might be pleasantly surprised how it turns out.

Those familiar with McCarson Jones should know better than to be surprised at anything artistic she does. She’s become well-known for putting on cutting edge art events such as the semi-regular Deliciously Weird shows as well as more traditional presentations as a commercial and personal photographer. But Thursday’s “Riding Side Saddle” exhibit at Sorrel Sky Gallery will be the first time Jones will show her own work in a Durango art gallery.

“It’s doubly different, because she’s a photographer and we’ve only been showing photography for less than a year. But it’s also the first time in 11 years that we’re having a show for an artist we don’t regularly represent,” said Sorrel Sky owner Shanan Campbell Wells.

For a good reason, “Riding Side Saddle” breaks those long-standing rules. A simple and small photo of a woman on horseback, which Jones saw in a magazine four years ago, inspired her idea for this work. For the project, which began last winter, Jones photographed 60 women with their horses. These photos will be part of Thursday’s exhibit opening.

Thursday also is the beginning of the annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which features three days of poetry, music and art dedicated to the American Cowboy. Or, in Jones’ case, cowgirl.

“I really wanted to do something feminine for Cowboy Gathering,” Jones said, who added that she drew on the memories of her grandmother, Violet, to guide her. “She was hard, hard-working woman, nurturing, graceful and honorable. That’s how I see these women. That they can have strength and control over such a large animal and still be so beautiful is incredibly powerful to me.”

Wells’ decision to bend the gallery rules was easy. She and Jones were at the same Christmas party last winter when she overheard Jones explaining her upcoming project.

“I said, ‘You’ve got to do that at the gallery,’” Wells said. “When I heard about it, the idea of it – images of strong women and horses – it’s near and dear to my heart because I grew up riding horses and this gallery is so named because I rode a sorrel mare. So it was pretty close to me for a lot of reasons. Then Carson asked me to model.”

That’s another first for Wells. Jones photographed her and her mother, Linda Campbell, at the Campbell family ranch near Ignacio. The hanging of their 20-by-20-inch photograph will mark the first time Wells’ image will be displayed in her own gallery.

Jones said she spent about 250 hours on the “Riding Side Saddle” show. She traveled countless miles, driving as far as Sedona, Ariz., to photograph one group, and she visited more than 50 ranches and homes in La Plata, Archuleta and Montezuma counties. At each stop, she interviewed her subjects (a list that grew from about 30 to the final list of 60 as word spread) to get to know each and understand her relationship with her horse. Then it was a matter of getting the horses ready for the camera as well as the human models.

“I’m not one to just show up, shoot and be gone,” Jones said.

“Riding Side Saddle” will remain on display at Sorrel Sky through October.


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