Although their cultural relevance has dwindled over the decades—replaced instead by the modern, ambitious city-dwelling business man—the image of the American cowboy remains clearly engrained in popular culture, whether through associations with the myriad Western films and television series old and new, or as represented in art and literature. The cowboy is sturdy, rugged, patriotic and no-nonsense; he is labelled powerful and is romanticized as a hero for his control over (and integration with) the wild. Outside of America, however, that image of the John Wayne/Marlboro type of man is replaced by new customs, cultures and folklore. Contender Luis Fabini has been following and documenting what he calls Horsemen of the Americasfor over five years, during which time he learned that while each country in South America gives them different names, their characteristics and adherence to traditions undoubtedly overlap.
Brazil/Vaqueiros. The Vaqueiros wear the handmade leather uniform of protecting clothing necessary to their work of roping cows, amidst lethal thorns throughout the bush caatinga, 2010 by Luis Fabini
In his artist statement, Fabini explains:
Horsemen of the Americas is a personal study of the most formidable working partnership ever forged between two living beings: man and horse. Since I began the Horsemen of the Americas in 2005, I have photographed eight different types of horsemen in eight countries, spanning from the southern tip of Patagonia to the Northern Canadian Plains. In the United States and Canada, these horsemen are called cowboys; in Mexico they are known as charros; in Ecuador as chagras; in Colombia and Venezuela as llaneros; in Peru as chalanes and qorilazos; in Chile they are called the huasos; Brazil has its pantaneiros and vaqueiros; and in Uruguay and Argentina they are the gauchos. Each variety of horsemen posseses a unique, cultural connection to their land and environment… It continues today as it did hundreds of years ago. Though their number has dwindled, these working horsemen are keepers of a historical lineage that commands their entire way of life, its traditions and languages. Their legacy [is] on its way to being lost forever. My aim is to provide a deeper understanding of this disappearing culture through my photographs and interviews, offering a closer and broader look at these remarkable working horsemen.
Ecuador/Chagras. The annual wild horses round up, 2009 by Luis Fabini
A self-taught photographer, Luis Fabini was born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1965, but spent his formative years in South America, Europe and the United States. His interest in photography was ignited at age seven by his father, who put a camera in his hand just before the two embarked on a memorable road-trip crossing the Andes. During his 20s, Fabini worked as a trekking guide and travel photographer throughout South America, leading to his life-long fascination with the working relationship between man and horse. He later worked in the film industry, first as a location scouting producer and then as a director and producer of documentary films. Since 2005, Fabini has been fully committed to his Horsemen of the Americas project, which has taken him to 10 different countries accross two continents in search of today’s working horsemen.