As a boy on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, Todd Klassy was raised among hard working, salt-of-the-earth folks. After becoming a photographer, the lure of the West drew him to remote Northern Montana, and he eventually settled in Havre.
Daryl Mitchell, of Cleveland, Mont., counting calves while branding on the Mitchell Ranch.
A portrait of Pete Berry, of Lloyd, Mont., on the Hofeldt Ranch.
Lacy Wortman, of Chinook, Mont., trails cattle on the Bird Tail Ranch in the shadow of Bird Tail Butte, in the Bear Paw Mountains.
Clinton Pankratz, of Cleveland, Mont.
Flames lip over a branding pot on the Kellam Ranch near Cleveland, Mont.
Three beef cows pose in front of Crown Butte near Lloyd, Mont.
Kyle Butcher attempts to rope a calf that separated itself from the herd on the Kellam Ranch near Cleveland, Mont.
David Verschelden bridling his horse.
“I’m in a place where I can photograph both cowboys and Indians,” Klassy says. “I’m a minimalist photographer, so I like the starkness of the plains. I enjoy shooting in those parts. As a photographer, it hones your ability to take a shot.”
While shooting in the Bear Paw Mountains one Sunday morning at dawn, he witnessed a convoy of horse trailers.
“I wanted to know what was going on, so I followed them and came to the top of a plateau where they were branding calves,” he says. “I asked if I could take pictures and was told, ‘No problem, just don’t get killed.’”
Thus began Klassy’s work documenting the working cowboys of Northern Montana. In addition to crisscrossing the state photographing these cowboys, he also travels the entire northern border of the nation discovering others.
“This is one of the last enclaves where working cowboys still exist, the ones that aren’t using calf tables and four-wheelers,” he says. “They still do things the old fashioned way. This is the real deal. There’s nothing staged. All these photographs are exactly as it happened.”
While the land inspires his art, the people remind him of his home. Neighbors will rally to help a friend in need, or drive for hours to help work cattle with no expectation of reimbursement—only the knowledge that when they need help, they can count on it being given in kind.
“The people who I photograph in these pictures would bristle at this, but people outside of these communities see this as a life that’s fading away,” Klassy says. “It gets harder to find kids who are willing to get dirty for a day wrestling calves. I enjoy photographing icons of American history that are still in existence. And the cowboys of Northern Montana have offered me that opportunity.”
For more of Todd Klassy's Montana photography, visit his website.