Shoot ‘em cowboys

  • @gillian_orr

Famed for his portraits of the male physique, the work of influential photographer Bruce of Los Angeles features in a new book, Rodeo, a collaboration between hip Swedish label Acne and Vince Aletti, the pioneering American music journalist. And similarly to Acne’s blue shirts that they put out last year alongside Lord Snowdon’s photography book, Snowdon Blue, Acne will tomorrow launch in New York a capsule clothing collection inspired by the project.

Designed by Acne’s Jonny Johansson, it features striking silver boots emblazoned with one of the portraits of a cowboy, and T-shirts, vests, and shirts similarly adorned with prints from the book. “My first idea was to design a pair of boots, but I found the images so strong that I wound up creating an entire collection around them,” says Johansson.

Bruce of Los Angeles – real name Bruce Bellas – began his career in 1947, having worked previously as a high-school chemistry teacher in his home state of Nebraska. After becoming a full-time photographer, he initially focused his lens on bodybuilders. In 1956 he launched his own magazine, The Male Figure, filled with his signature take on the Hollywood glamour shot. His startling portfolio is echoed in the work of Herb Ritts, Robert Mapplethorpe and Bruce Weber.

Rodeo is a collection of photographs taken by Bellas on his travels to various rodeos in Arizona, California, Oregon and Canada, and represents a small but significant offshoot of his main output. “The cowboy is the ultimate symbol of a masculinity that no longer exists, except in our cultural imagination,” insists Johansson. “And masculinity is something I’ve always liked to explore in my work. Yet Bruce Bellas doesn’t concentrate on the stereotypical cowboy, but on real cowboys at work or relaxing between performances. There’s both a gritty realism and a sensitivity about these photographs that I find really inspiring. The book and collection is a reflection of our DNA, where different creative disciplines – like photography, fashion and publishing – constantly interact.”