Category Archives: Friends Photos

A need fulfilled

Keigan working under his truck (20130404_07065)

We don’t know what we want until it enters our lives.  That’s why want is the source of greed and jealousy.  We see something, hear something, taste something, touch something, and in the aftermath of the encounter we find our desire kindled, and those flames scorch reason on the pyre of covet.

But need is different.  We need air, food, water, warm clothes in winter, tears when the pain becomes too much.  Needs are inherent like the color of our eyes.  And yet we don’t always recognize our own needs until something comes along to fulfill them.

Keigan petting his dog (20130404_07105)

Many years ago I met a family—they probably don’t remember that meeting, but I certainly do.  Visiting the family farm, I stood at the end of the driveway leading to the private road and watched a mother and her two kids approach.  My parents introduced us, told me this family lived in the new community being built along the bayou just down the road, and we stood and talked for a bit.

The mother, a woman named Denise, talked of the male alligator in the swamp near her home, listening to him rumble and grumble in his search for a mate, spoke of seeing him through a heavy downpour.  And her children, a daughter named Kenzie and a son named Keigan, shuffled their feet nervously in the presence of someone they didn’t know, but they burgeoned with life and vitality whilst dealing with my parents, whom they knew quite well.

Keigan in thought (20130508_07138)

I didn’t see that family again except in passing during a few of my visits in the intervening years.  They seemed like nice people, sure, but they were separate from me and my life in Dallas.  Whatever value they held, it hinged entirely on my parents.

Then I moved to the family farm in February 2012.  Once again I was confronted by this family, albeit under different circumstances.  And in that newfound contact I discovered a need I hadn’t recognized before, one now fulfilled, one now meaningful, one now central to me like the air I breathe and the food I eat, one like a warm blanket on a chill winter day.

Keigan talking on the phone (20130508_07223)

I’m kicking off a new series of posts to celebrate a member of that family.  He’s my brother, though at first I thought of him as a punk, then as an intelligent and interesting young man, then as an acquaintance who became a friend who became so much more.

Keigan becomes a senior in the next few weeks after his junior year ends.  For my first people-only photo project, I’ve agreed, with his sister Kenzie’s help, to photographically document his last year of high school, to help capture those memories for his family—but mostly for him.

Keigan driving (20130512_07236)

Although, honestly, it’s as much for me as it is anyone else.  We spend a great deal of time together, we talk, we go out, we laugh, we have fun, we care for each other in good times and bad.  Yet I know at the end of his high school years he will move on, venture out into the big bad world, take his life in the directions he wants and needs.  And in so doing, he will leave this place we call home, he will leave the world we live in, he will no longer be a daily part of my life.

So I want to capture those memories for his family, but I also want to capture them for me.  In just a year he has become essential to me and has made my life better and brighter.

Keigan stylin' (20130513_07341)

He’s the little brother I never had, the little brother I never knew I needed, the little brother who now represents so much joy and love and kinship.  He’s the little brother I gained in a year and he’s the little brother I will say goodbye to in another year.  Give or take.

Distance and absence will not change what we have.  I believe that sincerely, without question, sans hesitation.  But things will change; they always do.

Keigan looking hip (20130513_07346)

So for the next year I will share here some of the memories worth sharing, albeit I will keep the best for him and his family.  The photos and thoughts I share will be selected carefully while Denise, Kurt, Kenzie, Austin and Keigan hold the dearest closely for themselves.

This series is about a need fulfilled, a need I never knew I had, a need Keigan brought to light simply by being himself.  This series is about his last year in high school.

Keigan stylin' (20130513_07361)

This series is about a boy becoming a man.  This series is about someone facing the future.

This series is about family.

This series is about my brother.

Keigan taking his hat off (20130513_07366)

— — — — — — — — — —

Yes, I’m talking about Keigan from A boy and his cow (intro, part 1, part 2 & part 3), a series I need to finish.  Especially because I’ve photographed several shows since that first one, and most notably because he will continue showing with Bella throughout his senior year.  I promise I’ll bring that series up to date as quickly as I can so I can include their continuing adventures in this new series of posts.

No, this doesn’t mean I’ve given up on nature photos.  Trust me when I say I have so many images to share in that category that I don’t have to take another nature picture for years to come in order to keep the posts coming.  Though I promise to keep taking and sharing nature photos just as I’ve always done.  However, this series about Keigan and his family through his senior year will be as central as nature has always been.

Yes, I do have biological brothers—two older and one younger half-brother.  One has been lost to his own prejudices, one lives his life and visits when he can with his wife and kids, and the other has been gone for decades for reasons too complicated to explain.  It’s not that I never had a brother, but instead it’s because Keigan endeared himself to me for many reasons and became the little brother I wish I’d grown up with.

Yes, his family likewise became my extended family, each of whom I love dearly.  They’ve graciously welcomed me into their lives, trusted me with their home and themselves, allowed me to play a bit part on the stage of their world.

No, I don’t consider A boy and his cow my first foray into people photography.  It was a small step in that direction, but it centered on a person and an animal, not to mention the process of training, caring for, showing, and all the other verbs that come with participating in livestock competitions.  This senior year project is my first time ever focusing entirely on people.  I’ll be winging it, true, but I hope I learn from it and can make of it a permanent addition to my photography repertoire.

A boy and his cow #3

After observing the livestock show hoping to better understand what was expected of him when he and Bella eventually entered the ring, Keigan returned to his cow’s side.

Keigan checking Bella prior to competition (20120818_03066)

Perhaps by this time in the day’s activities—most notably after he gained perspective and instruction from the ongoing competition—Keigan’s palpable fear, uncertainty and doubt began to change, to metamorphose into something usable, something akin to determination and intent.

Keigan and Bella sharing a moment before they compete (20120818_03073)

Because she continued drawing upon his emotions to help define her own, Bella’s substantial stress and worry remained tangible, material.  Keigan knew this as well as we did.  He therefore tried his best to reassure her, to calm her, but also to reiterate that she must follow his bidding if they were to have any hope of placing.

Keigan and Bella waiting to hear the get-ready call for their competition (20120818_03093)

The enemy of purpose is vacant time.  Always rushing only to wait, the boy and his cow found themselves suspended in that insufferable moment when they had nothing further to do save wait for the call for his class to show.  It would be unwise to leave Bella, he knew, because they would have to move swiftly when the speakers announced their time had come.  So they waited.  And worried.  And wondered.

Keigan leading Bella toward the ring (20120818_03110)

Then it happened.  Through the cacophony of bellowing cows and bleating sheep and laughter and voices and overhead announcements, word came for Keigan’s class to prepare for competition.

With show stick in hand, he led her toward the ring, through throngs of animals and people.  He led her toward competition, their first together.  He led her.

Keigan and Bella waiting yet again before entering the ring (20120818_03114)

Yet once again the enemy of purpose reared its ugly head.  Prepared and assembled, competitors had to wait.  Again.

Bruce, Keigan's ag teacher, giving Bella a quick look and giving Keigan last-minute guidance (20120818_03118)

But Keigan’s ag teacher Bruce knew they would have no better opportunity for last-minute checks, last-minute tips, last-minute guidance.  So he defeated the enemy of purpose by filling vacant time, wresting control from fear, uncertainty and doubt.

The moment didn’t last long, though, for the time had finally come.  Speakers throughout the arena declared competitors in their class should make their way to the ring’s gate, for they finally had to face the judge for the first time.

Competition comes in waves.  Competitors and their animals must first contend at the class level.  Worthy participants advance to the best-of-class competition.  And winners in best of class advance to best of show.

However, first they must make it through their class, be chosen to move on, impress the judge with knowledge, skills and genetics such that they place and move forward.  Keigan had great hope for placing in his class, deep desire tempered with realism that he might take best in class, and willingness to face the daunting challenge of competing for best in show.

To know if any of these prospects could be made manifest, he and Bella had to overcome the biggest hurdle.

The judge for the cattle portion of the livestock show (20120818_03132)

They had to face the judge for the first time.

— — — — — — — — — —


  1. Keigan checking Bella prior to competition
  2. Keigan and Bella sharing a moment before they compete
  3. Keigan and Bella waiting to hear the get-ready call for their competition
  4. Keigan leading Bella toward the ring
  5. Keigan and Bella waiting yet again before entering the ring
  6. Bruce, Keigan’s ag teacher, giving Bella a quick look and giving Keigan last-minute guidance
  7. The judge for the cattle portion of the livestock show

A boy and his cow #2

Now where did we leave off?  Ah yes …

Keigan leading Bella into the arena (20120818_02859)

As Keigan led Bella toward the arena and their first joint showing, I was reminded of something his mother Denise said: “Give a boy a truck, a job and cow, and he thinks he knows everything.”  Facing the daunting task of participating in a livestock competition for the first time with a calf who has as much an excessive personality as he does, Keigan nevertheless continued denying that he suffered anxiety, that he felt nervous about the show, that he was at all worried.

Oh but we knew better.

Denise, Keigan's mother, standing watch over Bella (20120818_02874)

With Bella secured inside the large structure and Keigan and his father Kurt wandering off to get a better sense of when they would enter the ring, I stood watching Denise as she kept an eye on the cow, the goings on around her, the crush of people and animals, and I realized I was the true third-party observer.  My friendship with them notwithstanding, perhaps it was I who had the least invested in the day’s activities, and therefore it was I who could see that Keigan and Bella weren’t the only two suffering from stress and concern.

Competitors and their animals waiting outside the show ring; Kurt, Keigan's father, is standing near the ring fence right of center (20120818_02910)

Before them surged and flowed a veritable flood, wave after wave of people and animals crashing through the cacophony of judges’ voices pouring from the speakers.  This they faced together as a family.  And within each of them I could see the worms of fear and doubt squirming.

Keigan preparing to brush Bella (20120818_02934)

When from the crowd Keigan came sauntering, his carefree gait belied the apprehension in his eyes, on his face.  Busying himself, he brushed Bella, soothed her frayed nerves, gave her comfort in the familiar despite the unfamiliar surrounding her.  And perchance it was not just the cow who took succor from the interaction, but likewise the boy suckled at the teat of the wonted, of the preferred and comfortable, taking strength from the sweet taste of the known with hope it would wash away the sour sting of the unknown.

But his class and category would not show for some time, hence minutiae could provide only temporary relief from the incessant worms, always wriggling and writhing, always busy unmaking whatever ease the boy and his cow built.  So brushing and bonding transformed into busywork.  And busywork occupies the hands but not the mind, oftentimes churning the fecund soil wherein fear and doubt grow, consequently Denise and Kurt suggested Keigan spend time observing the show, learning from it, taking from it whatever experience his eyes and ears could gain.  For he and Bella faced this together for the first time, something the boy had never experienced and something the cow had never experienced with the boy.

Keigan and Denise watching the competition (20120818_02994)

Yet Keigan was not the only one who needed to observe.  With him stood his parents, and in the guise of scrutiny the worms of fear and doubt grew, apparent in each face, in their eyes, in their collective study of what soon would come.  Livestock shows are as much style as they are substance, as much rigid rules and pedantic procedures as they are idiosyncratic impressions and fussy fancies.

A young girl putting her heifer into a show stance during competition (20120818_02997)

Before them the ring filled and emptied, filled and emptied, each iteration bringing with it a bombardment of new impressions that laid waste the assumptions carried.  Most disconcerting perhaps was this realization: the mechanics of showing and the animals shown represented but a part of what the judges considered, for assessed as closely were the human contestants, their dress, their mannerisms, how they treated their animals, how they carried themselves.  Yes, Keigan and his family learned quickly that nice clothes and a clean shave would not a winner make, though they would play a part.  And more to the point, they realized the worms of fear and doubt had to be faced, had to be subdued, otherwise they would serve only to draw attention to those very human flaws which must remain hidden, obscured by determination and skill and intent.

Competitors leading their animals around the show ring during competition (20120818_03025)

Each successive class and each successive judging brought home the truth of what they faced and how they must face it, both the family as one and the boy and his cow together.  What they gleaned from their collective observation must provide Keigan the wisdom to show well, the knowledge to lead Bella and help her show well, the ability to face observers, judges and contestants with perseverance and purpose, for to do otherwise would be to fail before entering the ring.  Entering the ring for the first time, that is, because to win a class means only to move on to the next showing—best of show for their breed.

Keigan, Kurt and Denise observing the ongoing competition (20120818_03038)

Keigan, Kurt and Denise watched, unaware that they too were watched even as they focused on what happened before them and what that meant for what lay before them.  Their attention keen and directed, for the first time I saw the unconscious struggle within them, the worms of fear and doubt fighting against determination and resolve.  And for the first time, I saw the promise of victory in each of them, a hint of potential to overcome the incessant battle raging inside.  Yes, for the first time I saw tangible hope: We can do this, it said.  We can face this and we can accomplish something.

Keigan closely watching the competition (20120818_03047)

Oh how they twisted and turned then, those worms of fear and doubt, since hope is their archenemy.  In Keigan’s unflagging inspection I could see uncertainty as easily as I could see fortitude.  The struggle continued, but soon the battle would reach its zenith: their first showing, their first judging.

And that time was approaching faster than they realized.

— — — — — — — — — —


  1. Keigan leading Bella into the arena
  2. Denise, Keigan’s mother, standing watch over Bella
  3. Competitors and their animals waiting outside the show ring; Kurt, Keigan’s father, is standing near the ring fence right of center
  4. Keigan preparing to brush Bella
  5. Keigan and Denise watching the competition
  6. A young girl putting her heifer into a show stance during competition
  7. Competitors leading their animals around the show ring during competition
  8. Keigan, Kurt and Denise observing the ongoing competition
  9. Keigan closely watching the competition

A boy and his cow #1

Never had I considered Keigan’s efforts noteworthy prior to attending the Waskom FFA Jackpot Show.  Well, perhaps I unintentionally disparage his efforts when no disparagement is meant.  Always have I considered what he hopes to accomplish with Bella a noteworthy endeavor.  But photographically and linguistically?  Not so much.

So when he and his parents invited me to attend their first show, I happily agreed, not only because I consider them dear friends but also because I had never before seen a livestock show.  That Keigan hopes to gain university entry via his efforts has not escaped me, thus I have wished him well since I first discovered this project, and yet I had not fully recognized or appreciated the fullness of the whole, but rather I had observed and participated in the smallness of this part and that part.

But a show?  Their first show together?  A collective step forward on the path that hopefully will become his collegiate ticket and her lasting well-being?  Or more importantly, the preliminary go at a years-long journey that wends about such hopes and ambitions and promises as to require Herculean strength, Heraclean endurance, and Damon and Pythias-like friendship and loyalty?  Yes, their first show together represented a very different—and much bigger—aspect of this than I had considered.

Denise and Keigan tending to Bella prior to the livestock show (20120818_02831)

In the weeks preceding the show I asked Keigan repeatedly if he felt nervous.  “Not at all” he would flippantly reply, though no one involved believed him.  While Bella had participated in a few shows prior to her becoming Keigan’s partner, he had no experience with the show circuit or its idiosyncrasies or the totality of its myriad requirements, requirements fluid and unpredictable and based on the personality of each judge.

Yet denial can be a powerful sedative to calm frayed nerves; likewise it can be a stimulant that awakens distressed anxiety.  Therefore we urged him to accept his concern as normal, to admit it insofar as it would help balm them.  But Keigan is young, and as the young are wont to do he maintained the strength of his denial even as his friends and family recognized the growing worms of fear and doubt squirming beneath his skin.

Keigan spending time with Bella prior to the livestock show (20120818_02837)

When at least he stood upon the verdant grass of the Marshall City Arena and faced the magnitude of what was to come, surrounded by trailers galore and enough livestock to fill a farm, the boy who is a young man refused to crumble, refused to sway before the force of this thing he hopes to accomplish.

Passing up the opportunity to play in that day’s high school football game because, as he said, Bella represents his best chance to fund college, the maturity oft hidden beneath carefree youth seized the worms of fear and doubt and, though unable to kill them, it nonetheless sought to take control of them—he nonetheless sought to take control of them.

Bella foaming at the mouth (20120818_02839)

As much as in response to Keigan’s worry as to her own, Bella’s apprehension manifested in many ways, some of it behavioral and some of it psychosomatic.  Her previous experiences notwithstanding, she had not before faced a show with Keigan, and like all animals under such circumstances she was as much attuned to her own stress as to his.  Any chance for their collective success hinged directly on their ability to work together, to overcome those relentless worms of fear and doubt, to deny them fodder for growth and to stop their incessant wriggling.

The Keigan and Bella cheering squad: his parents, Kurt and Denise, his ag teacher, and family friends (20120818_02851)

Yet both the boy and his cow had unremitting support from family and friends, not to mention his ag teacher (agricultural education teacher for the uninitiated).  While not one of us entertained the idea that we could magically cure the stressful ills Keigan and Bella faced, we accepted as undeniable truth that we could be there for them, lending ear and shoulder and words and strength, the quantifiable and unquantifiable manifestations of relentless succor.

Keigan and Bella sharing a moment before the livestock show (20120818_02854)

At last time came to enter the showground.  Significant time still separated us from their preliminary entry into the arena, their first joint effort to show, yet Keigan and Bella had to face the initial obstacle: his leading her from the trailer to the competition area.

Alone together, he soothed her and she him, the two reaching through the worms of fear and doubt to seize upon the powerful relationship they had built in the months prior.  That relationship, I will admit, is as moving to witness as it must be intimate to experience.  Like Damon and Pythias from Roman mythology, Keigan and Bella have achieved a depth of loyalty and friendship from which burgeons unquestionable trust.  But would that be sufficient to stop the incessant squirming of those metaphorical worms?

Keigan and Bella leaving the trailer behind as they head into the arena for the livestock show (20120818_02855)

Where he leads she follows, and so she did on that day, albeit from both a boy and his cow poured forth tangible fear borne of stress and self-doubt, borne of the unanswered questions growing from the daunting task they faced together: his first show and her first show with him.  Oh how the worms wriggled and writhed, obvious to any witness, yet equally how Keigan and Bella focused on each other to quell the incessant struggling within.

Keigan leading Bella to the arena for the livestock show (20120818_02856)

So their first show began, a journey started months before heading toward fruition with those first few steps, the safety and comfort of the known left behind and the trouble and trepidation of the uncertain ahead.  We did not know what to expect.

And always in the background the worms of fear and doubt twisted and turned and fidgeted, distractions from the task at hand and enemies of goals within reach.

— — — — — — — — — —


  1. Keigan and his mother Denise tending to Bella prior to show
  2. Keigan and Bella prior to show
  3. Bella foams at the mouth when she’s stressed; this was her first show with Keigan, so her stress was as palpable as his
  4. The Keigan and Bella spirit squad: his parents, Kurt and Denise, his ag teacher, Bruce, and family friends
  5. Keigan and Bella sharing a moment before heading to the show arena; there is a real and tangible relationship here, one that has formed over time and is inspiring to witness
  6. Keigan leading Bella away from the trailer toward the show arena
  7. Keigan leading Bella to the show arena (notice the look on the background girl’s face)

And a less-than-stellar photo, a blooper as it were:

Bella foaming at the mouth with her tongue up her nose (20120818_02838)

Foaming at the mouth with her tongue up her nose, it seemed Bella refused to take the show as seriously as we expected.  Or at least she refused to take my photography efforts as seriously as I expected.

A boy and his cow

I don’t do people photography.  That has been a mainstay of my photographic endeavors for many years.  Not because I don’t like taking pictures of people, but rather because my focus has remained on nature and has met with success in that arena.  And this has left me with a rather daunting lack of experience when it comes to photographing people, thus my unflinching comfort with ignoring that area.  At least until now.

An artistic impression of my friend Keigan and his calf Bella leaving the Waskom FFA Jackpot Show in Marshall, TX

Those who I consider dear friends, Denise, Kurt and Keigan, recently invited me to a livestock event, the Waskom FFA Jackpot Show, and their invitation came via the fact that one of them—Keigan—is pursuing collegiate entry by way of a FFA show cow, the calf named Bella.

Thus begins my tale, both linguistic and photographic.

This is about a boy, Keigan, and his cow, Bella.  But it’s also about photography, FFA, family, friends and college.  Most importantly, it’s about life.

I will learn about taking pictures of people and livestock in the same moments that I decide to share those moments with you.  I will learn to cherish and protect my beloveds in the same moments that I share those moments with you.  And I will learn to understand livestock and farm life at the same moments that I share those moments with you.

So come with me, if you will, on this journey:

Dear friends recently asked me to attend a livestock show with them, most notably because one of them is showing a calf hoping to place well as means to earn university passage.  This is their story.

Above: Keigan and Bella leaving the Waskom FFA Jackpot Show in Marshall, TX.  More to come from this show, not to mention from their ongoing journey.