by Ross Hecox
Silver Creek Valley, near Picabo, Idaho, is one of the more picturesque places I’ve visited. The surrounding mountains and winding stream make an incredible backdrop when photographing cows, cowboys and a team of Belgian horses trudging through the snow, pulling a sleigh piled with hay.
David Stoecklein and I were there working on an article about Picabo Livestock, a ranch owned and operated by the Purdy family for more than 100 years. David was everywhere with his cameras—inside the barn, in front of the horses, out in the snowy pasture, on top of the sleigh. His energy and enthusiasm were unmistakable as he positioned himself from one scene to the next, envisioning photographs, mashing his shutter button and joking with the cowboys.
Sadly, David passed away November 10. As one of the greatest Western photographers of our time, his work promoted the ranching lifestyle, helped preserve a unique culture and shaped the image of the modern American cowboy.
I feel fortunate that I had the chance to work with him on a couple photo shoots. Our first assignment together was on the Spanish Ranch near Tuscarora, Nevada. I was writing the article (published in the December 2007 issue of Western Horseman), and I didn’t bring my cameras because I didn’t want to interfere with his work. He asked me, “Why didn’t you bring your cameras?” On our next shoot, at Picabo (story published in January 2008), I brought my gear. David was happy for me to fire away shots beside him, and he shared a wealth of helpful information to a young, aspiring photographer.
During the past few years, David began hosting photography workshops at his ranch in Idaho, as well as in Montana and Texas. A few months ago I was interviewing him for an article in the November 2014 issue. He told me, “Our workshops are unbelievable. I love sharing ideas and teaching people photography.”
He also told me, “Very few people remember my great ads for Jeep and Coke and Chevy. People remember my cowboy photos. I think they tell a story, and they preserve a culture and a lifestyle.”
David Stoecklein’s impact reached across ranches and cow camps throughout the West. He will certainly be missed.