drive the wild west david yarrow

Photographer David Yarrow ponders his journey of the American “Wild West”


Bringing to mind imagery of saloons and sheriffs, cowboys and Native Americans, film’s rich characterization of the American West is a prevailing signature of the U.S. culture.

States associated most frequently with the Western genre of cinema include Montana, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, California, Colorado and Texas, each known for their ghost towns, unique architecture and large swaths of land, unspoiled by modern lifestyles.

“It is a genre that people are not bored of, but you have to be authentic,” said David Yarrow, a British photographer and founder of David Yarrow Photography. “You have to make the screen sweat.”

Mr. Yarrow dedicated several months of his life exploring the majesty that the Western United States has to offer.

While Mr. Yarrow’s tour of the region remains ongoing, he did release a set of prints earlier this year, aptly titled “The Wild West.”

Peaks and valleys

Mr. Yarrow has long traveled to remote corners of the world, but rarely has he dedicated so much of his time to a single region.

Bearing in mind that international travel remains difficult, his extended visit to the U.S. has been more pragmatic than anything else.

Of course, every state that Mr. Yarrow visited offers its own distinctive characteristics, including varying terrains and climate.

“America is spoiled for choice,” he said.

the iron horse the wild west david yarrow
THE IRON HORSE: The railroad was essential in the U.S.’s expansion West. The Durango to Silverton steam train captures dramatic scenery high in Colorado’s mountains and remains much the same since it opened in 1882.

In Colorado, for example, Mr. Yarrow was most drawn to the town of Telluride and its proximity to box canyons, comparing the steep walls and cliff faces to story ends.

Meanwhile, the appeal of West Texas was its “cowboy culture” and New Mexico its architecture.

Up north, in Montana and Wyoming, the topography shifts.

“The Tetons in Wyoming are the most spectacular mountain range in America because everything starts from that same level and they just rise vertically, aggressively from the lake,” Mr. Yarrow said.

a river runs through it the wild west david yarrow
A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT: Captured from the Snake River among the Tetons of Wyoming, Mr. Yarrow himself was underwater so that his camera was level with the canoe, amplifying the mountains in the foreground.

Also found in these two sparsely populated states are ghost towns and sweeping valleys.

“It feels like the final frontier,” Mr. Yarrow said. “Montana is the place of big skies.”

Director’s cut

Much of the romanticism of the West stems from the Western genre of film.

Accordingly, a number of movies and other forms of media influenced Mr. Yarrow’s work.

Thelma and Louise was one standout movie from his young adulthood. He opted to shoot in Arches National Park, the same park from the flick’s iconic ending.

That park is also the location where Mr. Yarrow chose to shoot noted model/actor Cara Delevingne.

“We shot first thing in the morning, with no one else around,” Mr. Yarrow said. “The moon, the valley, all that area was spectacular.”

ain't my first rodeo the wild west david yarrow
AIN’T MY FIRST RODEO: Texas will always be known for its cowboys.. While shooting, Mr. Yarrow described feeling an adrenaline rush as the steer ran towards him.

Another location he worked with significant ties to cinema was the town of Marfa, Texas, in which No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were filmed.

Additional influences included works from the Coen brothers, the television series Westworld and the character and story rich video game, Red Dead Redemption.

Model behavior

In terms of Mr. Yarrow’s relationship with Ms. Delevingne, the pair have worked together on countless photoshoots in the last few years, including a dramatic brand campaign for watchmaker Tag Heuer’s #DontCrackUnderPressure in 2018.

From this current project, a portion of the revenues earned are being contributed to Ms. Delevingne’s personal foundation, which supports women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, mental health and environmental causes.

bonnie the wild west david yarrow cara delevingne
BONNIE: In a shot worthy of the cinema, Mr. Yarrow partnered with Ms. Delevingne to capture an image worthy of the mythologized Bonnie and Clyde.

Discussing Ms. Delevingne, Mr. Yarrow offered glowing words.

“She’s the best,” he said. “It’s really that simple.”

Mr. Yarrow goes on to describe her as intelligent, adaptable and authentic.

“And, in my case, she is British,” he said. “We are both British, so we understand each other’s quirkiness.”

ULTIMATELY, people are key in creating Mr. Yarrow’s fondest professional memories.

“You can have a very successful trip, photographing polar bears in the middle of nowhere,” Mr. Yarrow said. “It may be incredibly successful, but there are no massively fond memories. You have not seen anyone, you have not laughed an awful lot.”

Fortunately, Mr. Yarrow felt welcome in his latest venture, despite being an “outsider” of the culture, as he described it.

“We went to Texas recently and, at the end of the three days, near the Mexican border, they had a barbecue and all the cowboys and their wives came up,” Mr Yarrow said. “The whole community got involved and people brought out their guitars out and sang Willie Nelson songs.”

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