'Pure Quill' Shows A Lifetime Of Photographing The American West

Mar 1, 2017

In the vernacular of the West, the term Pure Quill means “authentic; real, through and through.” With her photographs of the West, which she knows and loves, Barbara Van Cleve gives vision to that term.

Born and raised on a working cattle and horse ranch in Montana’s Crazy Mountains, for seven decades Van Cleve has focused her lens on land and sky, and the men, women, and animals who live there. With her expert compositions and creative use of natural textures, Van Cleve's photographs dispel the Hollywood myths associated with the West, while conveying its true adventure and vibrant personalities.


A Natural Design
Credit Barbara Van Cleve - All Rights Reserved

Van Cleve, whose professional career blossomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has returned to her home land near Big Timber, Montana. In Pure Quill she tells her stories in black and white photographs. “Black and white is such an intellectual medium, with lines that allow the eye to travel beyond the frame and value gradations that engage the imagination and stimulate the memory,” she says.

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Barbara Van Cleve on Joven, summer 2013
Credit Barbara Van Cleve - All Rights Reserved

In this first book featuring the breadth of her subject matter, readers experience Van Cleve’s many themes and series, including Rodeo as Dance, transfixing night scenes, the Great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive, and documentation of the Spanish Mission Trail in Baja California, Mexico.

“Just give me my horse and saddle, some great open country, cattle, and working cattle people, and I’ll do my work quietly, in all conditions, from pure perfection to rain, mud, dust, and freezing blizzards,” she says of her photographs, most of which were made on locations throughout the West, many from the back of a galloping horse.

(Broadcast on MTPR: September 1, 2016 and March 2, 2017)