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Many of Belden’s images were taken in the 1920s and 1930s on the legendary 250,000-acre Pitchfork Ranch at the base of the spectacular Absaroka Mountains near Meeteetse, Wyoming. By photographing cowboys and cattle against this spectacular backdrop, he created some of the classic images of the American West.
One of the pre-eminent photographers of Western American ranch life was born in San Francisco, California in 1887. After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1909, Charles Belden and his school friend, Eugene Phelps, took an American Packard on the first automobile tourist trip through Germany and into Russia. Belden bought his first camera, a Zeiss Palmos, to record the journey - and began his life-long passion for photography. Upon returning to the United States, Belden went to work as a cowboy on the L G Phelps ranch in Wyoming. In 1914, Belden returned to the Pitchfork. In 1922, L G Phelps died leaving Eugene and Charles to manage the Pitchfork. At this time, Belden’s interest in photography piqued.
In the introduction to The Belden Portfolio, his daughter Margot Belden Todd wrote:
Here the Rocky Mountain landscape, ranch life and livestock activities offered unending material for his creative eye. During these early years, Belden broadened his photographic techniques, experimenting with new methods of exposure, developing and printing. Belden processed his images in an “antique” darkroom at the Pitchfork Ranch. From 1914 to 1940, Belden honed his skills and artistry to become one of the leading photographers to record the drama and beauty of the vanishing frontier cattle ranch. Many of Belden’s western photographs were taken on horseback - aboard his reliable pony Pinky. He thought this gave him the desired perspective, also using a unipod for stability. Belden received acclaim when his photographs were published in National Geographic, Saturday Evening Post and numerous other magazines. Charles J Belden died in 1966.
Margot Belden Todd stated, “Charles Belden was in the right place at the right time, to interpret the passing of an era that we can only know from his remarkable images. He shows us, with compassion and love, a life we will never live but may always experience through the dramatic wonder that his prints convey.”