A MOUNTAIN GIRL
PHOTOGRAPHY + ESSAY BY: LUKE GOTTLIEB
I grew up in a small town in the mountains of Colorado called Carbondale. It sits about 30 miles downriver from the iconic ski town of Aspen. You can imagine the sort of beauty and culture that area harnesses. Carbondale holds everything that is dear to me; rivers, mountains, wildlife, ranches and about everything you can imagine a small mountain town would. Most of my time growing up was spent running around in the woods and on ranches, which a few of my friends lived on. As any mountain child could recall, these sort of upbringings can certainly shape you. Certainly, they have shaped me and as I continue the journey of photography, which often brings me to cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego and beyond, it’s the mountains that ground me to the core.
Over the last few months however, I was experiencing shoots that didn’t quite inspire me. So much of my work and projects take place in Los Angeles, where the pool of talented models, hair and makeup artists is endless. The industry is there in a big way, so over the last couple of years I have made it a point to be there often. As great as that is, it’s easy to get creatively exhausted and that is one of the biggest challenges for me in having an art form as my job. When you complete a project that truly speaks to you, that your truly proud of, you can feel that in a true and intense way. But getting to that point can be a hard and challenging road. Lately, I’ve been feeling the numbness of that weary road, and knew I needed to take a step back from the grind to focus on on finding new inspiration.
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely gal by the name of Sarah Courtney. She’s a mountain girl through and through and her parents own this beautiful ranch in Buena Vista, CO. “Buena Vista”, which is Spanish for “Beautiful View,” is very much just that. The ranch sits at the foot of towering 14,000 foot peaks, and on this particular day, the infamous and unpredictable summer weather of Colorado was in full swing. Sweeping storm clouds had socked in the town for the day, but the ranch, nestled in the eye of these summer storms was some of the most stunning and dramatic light I have seen in a while. I hadn’t had a shoot that felt so close to home in such a long time.
Sarah’s ranch is as amazing as any ranch could be; chickens, horses, random relics of the old days and a beautiful stately old barn that seems to watch over the ranch. Sarah herself is a proficient horseback rider and her connection with the horses is something that would inspire anyone. I wanted to capture this environment many people only know from films and show Sarah existing, naturally, authentically.
A sort of rejuvenation took place for me. The light was amazing, the styling was perfect, and for Sarah, it was her most authentic self being on the ranch around her horses. We walked around, shooting in multiple outfits and capturing anything that inspired us. Most of the time, I’m a portrait photographer in fairly controlled scenarios, being able to photograph this wild environment while capturing such a profound moment of connection between a woman and this beast was one of the most genuine, beautiful and grounding things for me. I had instant flashbacks to my childhood and my love for Colorado.
I think things happen in life intentionally. For me, this shoot felt right. It felt like home and helped to refuel my soul in a way that continuing to grind out work could not. Certainly, from a photographer’s perspective… that of my own, i’m more inspired and driven after this experience. Often, we go around trying to figure things out as human beings instead of just allowing life to unfold. As I sit here eating some fresh eggs from Sarah’s ranch and listening to Bob Dylan, I look at this shoot as a testament to the notion that ‘home’ isn’t as far away as you think and who you truly are is always there. You just have to allow it to show up.