Seth Joel and Charlie Holland have been traveling across the state of Arizona for the past few years. Their goal was to capture life on the ranch, through the eyes of the ranch raised kids. In the ultimate culmination, their photos are being published in a beautiful coffee table book which is set for release on December 3, 2018. It will be available for order on the Arizona Cattle Industry Research and Education Foundation’s website. While you’re waiting, enjoy a sample of their photos while reading through this question and answer interview to learn more about this photography duo and what led them to this project.
Arizona Beef Council: How did you get into photography?
Seth Joel: I grew up in a photo family just outside of New York City in a small village called Croton-On-Hudson. Like Ranch Raised Kids, I was mentored by my father, a staff photographer for Life Magazine. I grew up looking at pictures at the dinner table every night. When we started working with the ranch raised kids, I felt a real connection to the ranchers’ kids right from the start. They also have fathers and uncles and grandfathers that were showing them how to do things and then allowing them to learn from doing. This was very much the way I learned photography. After high school, I moved to New York City proper and began building my career. That’s where I met Charlie, who moved from London to New York to work for a publisher. That publisher sent the two of us to India to do a photo story on the Maharaja, and that’s where the two of us met and fell in love, and the rest is history.
Charlie Holland: My background is a little different. I was brought up in England, and I have a degree in anthropology and African history, believe it or not. But I spent about three years in Africa, so maybe that’s why not much fazes me in the outback of Arizona. Then I started working for a publisher doing photo research. We moved to Los Angeles about 20 years ago when our kids were still young where I had a job at Universal Studios.
ABC: Photography has taken you all over the world. What is your favorite destination?
Seth: I would say India was probably the most unique destination. Being a photographer is like having a passport into special places and opportunities and seeing people’s lives from a different perspective, almost as an observer. Photography’s been very kind to me. It’s allowed me a lot of opportunities and Ranch Raised Kids is no exception to that. When I’m shooting a photo story, I am completely and totally all in. I just live and breathe and think about it all the time. My discipline on a project is really all about being focused on the story that I’m trying to tell. The ranch kids are amazing because they know that both Charlie and I have come a long way to spend the day with them and they really respect that right from the start. They give me all the time I need. They get completely involved with the project. It becomes very spontaneous. At the end of a photo session with them, they really own their photographs.
Charlie: For me, the beauty of pursuing this type of photography is why I like anthropology. I’m incredibly curious about how other people live and think and the more you know about how other people live and think, the more you realize how similar we all are. This has been a fantastic opportunity to learn that about a distinctive culture in America.
ABC: What inspired you to do the Ranch Raised Kids project?
Charlie: It was the kids that inspired us to do the Ranch Raised Kids project. We were out in Arizona taking photographs for magazine stories and some other things. While doing these stories, we met some kids in Arizona who told us we should go to the Cowpunchers Reunion Rodeo. We eventually did go, and we met many more children who were growing up on ranches in Arizona. We talked with their parents and learned so much about how they were being brought up. The simple size of a ranch in Arizona was a piece of knowledge we didn’t know. All the kids we met seemed to share certain traits such as excellent manners. My mother would have loved every ranch kid she ever met. We were blown away by their sense of responsibility and the amount of talent they have with livestock. These kids are definitely more mature than their age.
We were ignorant of the fact that there were so many rancheswe had driven through thinking it was empty country. These kids helped us realize something. The cowboy has been portrayed over the last forty to fifty years as a vanishing breed. But these kids showed us that there was, infact, the next generation in ranching. And they are brilliant kids brought up in almost the same way as generations before but with a smartphone in their back pocket. And they are here and now, and they were going to carry on this extraordinary tradition of raising beef. And that, THAT, was what inspired us to do this project.
ABC: How will this benefit the kids you are profiling?
Seth: Our project puts a family face on the ranching business. It promotes awareness to people that are unfamiliar with the devotion families have to the livestock and the range and the desire to raise the standards to a really high level of excellence. We learned every ranching family has many things in common, but the most powerful one is the focus on excellence. They have a job to do, and they are going to do it really well. We are able to show that through the eyes of the children and the stories of the ranch Raised Kids.
Charlie: Kids learn from other kids twice as fast as they learn from grownups. We want this to be for kids by kids. We hope a school-aged child can pick it up and say, “Wow! That’s what this guy really does? The guy with the cowboy hat on, wow, he really does work at five o’clock in the morning?” The other benefit of telling the story through the eyes of a child is that it removes the need to instruct adults or to correct misperceptions. We are showing just who these kids are, what they are doing, and with any luck, we can weave in some insight on how the community lives.
Seth: We feel so blessed that we’ve been able to go to ranches as far north as the Grand Canyon and as far south as the Mexican border. We saw different operations and different kids and different desires, and I think one thing that really impressed us was the discussion about education. We visited thirty-five to forty ranches, and at each one there was a discussion about continuing education. It was thrilling for us to see this as a common thread, from ranch to ranch.
Charlie: Even at the Cowpunchers Reunion Rodeo we heard announcements about scholarship winners and then at county fairs. I’ve never walked into a community that was so dedicated to the education of the next generation. It was astounding.
ABC: Where do you see this project going?
Charlie: We’d like to be able to pull back to do the Southwest. At that point, we’ll have a national interest, and then we can put everything together into one volume which might appeal to a much broader American audience and possibly German and Chinese audience as well.
ABC: During all of your time spent at ranches across Arizona, what was the one thing that will always stick with you?
Charlie and Seth: The community.
Seth: We’ve been at this for two years now, so we’ve seen and heard about wrecks and the community really pitches in. It’s remarkable! I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Having traveled a lot and seen a lot of different cultures, the ranching community lifestyle really sets the bar up very high. It’s lovely to be a part of it. And we feel lucky to have been welcomed into it. The first six months we never even lifted a camera. We went to cattle auctions and 4-H club meetings. We just started to talk with people and refine our message, and we began to understand how much we didn’t know about the community. We began to learn little by little, and eventually, somebody said, “If you’re really serious about this, I can help you,” and she did, she really did. She began to share us. And once we started photographing, it took off like a house on fire. People just started passing us around.
Charlie: Something that sticks with me is how different each ranch is. There are no two businesses exactly alike. Regarding simple details like when calves are born is entirely different on various ranches. There are thousands of decisions ranchers make, and everyone has a slightly different way of doing it. There isn’t just one generic model on how to run a ranch.
Along with that, these kids are encouraged at very young ages, as early as seven or eight years old, to invest in their own business. The kids save up all of their money and then when they are old enough, they buy a cow. Or their parents might be generous and give them a cow to start their herd. It’s incredible to see that kind of business sense imparted on these young people.
ABC: What is your favorite cut of beef?
Seth: Oh, that’s an easy one! I love Ribeye! Especially when they are three-quarters of an inch thick and are cooked on the grill.
Charlie: I’m a Tri-Tip girl. I know that’s very California of me. I really love a Tri-Tip on the barbecue with a coffee and chipotle rub.
A special thank you to Seth and Charlie for the interview and for capturing these amazing photos of our bright ranching future! Be sure to check the project out online at Ranch Raised Photo.