by: Valerie Pope

Long-term relationships are becoming a novelty in modern America. We live in a transient pop-culture world of diluted responsibility. But in the heartland and on our farms and ranches, folks still have what it takes to maintain business and family relationships as the outside world presses in. In our agricultural world, we still depend on each other and celebrate each other's success.

One such success is the relationship of Cattle Today and one of its photographic providers, William Pope. Their collaboration has reached a 20-year milestone. From 1991 to date, Cattle Today has published 76 of Pope's photos on its cover, enough to make a dad proud. Pope has been a reliable source by regularly sending quality samples. How is such a steady support relationship created and maintained? Just as in any business, successful relationships all go back to their foundational roots.

Pope's foundation was built in Georgia where he was raised by a cattleman father. After receiving a 35mm camera at age 15, Pope began to look for subjects to photograph on the farm. The peanut plants bored him as photographic subjects and the barnyard birds were too fleeting. Fortunately, the cattle did provide inspirational subject matter. As the sun drenched his father's Georgia farm and cattle mooed contentedly, Pope captured many idyllic scenes through the lens of his Canon F-1 using Kodachrome slide film. At the time, he did not realize that this shot would be the genesis of a twenty year relationship with Cattle Today.

Pope worked with the cattle and learned many aspects of ranching, from artificial insemination and pulling calves to cattle EPDs. Even so, his interest in photography increased so that his father became concerned. He warned him that he would “starve to death with that camera.” Such is often the tale of a son “not following” in the father's footsteps. However, as his son's success in his full-time and freelance photography grew, his dad supported his career choice. Those early years developed a sense of resolve and patience in Pope that would further strengthen his career's foundation. (It takes supreme patience to wait in a muggy pasture, swatting mosquitoes for hours until the cattle pose just right—Oh if they only spoke English and would follow instructions without being lured by range pellets)!

A few years later in 1990, Pope relocated to cattle-rich Oklahoma. He cultivated relationships with many cattlemen, veterinarians, and feedlots in Oklahoma into Texas and Colorado. The trust he developed provided him access to many herds of various cattle breeds. Many landowners graciously let him come on their land. In exchange, Pope would help survey the herds for problems. Pope has been able to notify ranchers of health and safety issues, including saving the lives of a few head. He has given many ranchers tear sheets (copies) from publications “so they will know I'm out there doing something constructive and not just wasting their cow's time.” These relationships have helped both the ranchers and Pope develop their stock.

Pope shows the determination, drive, and creativity that help him cull the good photo opportunities from the bad. This makes for some unusual photos which editors favor. The response at home is not always as enthusiastic. Pope has often been known to hijack the family vacation to make a quick side trip for an urgent cattle shot. Who would expect him to find a cattle shot in Cape Cod? He found it and Cattle Today published it, too! His wife has survived cattle drives and cattle branding extravaganzas in the Colorado low country as well as waiting by the phone while Pope chased cattle photos in advance of an approaching tornado. What men will do for their cattle! But I digress.

The relationship with Cattle Today started back in early 1991. Pope contacted editor Belinda Ary in the fourth year of the magazine's production to see if there was a need for cover shots. He sent in some slide samples immediately after that initial contact and the rest is history. Back then, the cover photo did not “cover” the whole front page, but made up only a fraction of the space. Within a few years, however, the cover permanently became a full image. Cattle Today has been a steady partner in supporting Pope's photographic art.

Until now, there has been another “silent” partner behind the scenes of his photographic endeavors. This person has supported his photographic escapades with few complaints even though sometimes he spent more time with the cattle (his “girls”) than with her over the last 17+ years of marriage. She has occasionally described herself jokingly as a “photo widow.” This person is his wife, who unabashedly wrote this article (with a few subtle hints from him) and who thanks him for nearly two decades of adventure.

Yes, photographic art has its practical side. Including Cattle Today, 92 ABP's (advertising agencies, businesses and publications) in 24 states and several other countries have used Pope's cattle and cattle-related work. Starting with a magazine cover in 1984, over 590 different stock shots have been used. Each of those have ranged from single to numerous uses. One popular cow/calf shot which was taken just a few miles from Pope's house in 1991 sold at least twelve times. Customers have produced his images in sizes ranging from 1inch to 8 feet. His per photo sale prices have ranged widely from $25 to $5700, depending upon usage/volume and other factors. But none of the 92 ABP's have used as many different images as Cattle Today. “That puts Cattle Today in a special category,” Pope said.

Throughout the 20 years of many Cattle Today covers, the earlier ones were special to Pope since they were photographed back on the family farm in Georgia. Yet there is one cover photo that stands out above the rest. On the July 5, 2008 cover, Cattle Today published the last cattle-related image that Pope took before his dad died just days before Memorial Day 2008. The image was shot on a hot sunny late afternoon on a desolate New Mexico road. He captured the image of a lone road sign in the shape of a cow with the colors of the U.S. flag painted on both sides. He did not know then that just days later, he would stand sentry next to his dad's flag-draped coffin on that Memorial Day. His dad was both a cattleman and a war veteran, part of the “greatest generation.”

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