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Resounds: Barbara Van Cleve

Barbara Van Cleve at the YPR studios
Anna Paige
Barbara Van Cleve at the YPR studios

Born in 1935, Barbara Van Cleve has spent her life in Montana photographing the ranching life around her. The Cleve family established the Lazy K Bar Ranch in 1880 near Melville on the eastern slopes of the Crazy Mountains. Barbara’s first camera, a Brownie Box Junior, was given to her at age 11, and since then, she’s been documenting the vastness of Montana’s landscape, including its working ranchers, beloved horses, and cattle, ever since.

Born and raised in a ranching family, Van Cleve said she wanted to share that lifestyle with the world, so she set out to document the everyday life of a ranching family. She was exposed to photography at a young age though Life Magazine, which was delivered to the family ranch. From that early exposure to Life Magazine, Van Cleve’s style was informed by documentary photojournalism, using natural light, and working to compose her images in the camera. She describes herself as a “one shot” photographer and does not pose her subjects.

As well, Van Cleve studied the photos of black and white masters such as Ansel Adams and photographs almost exclusively in black and white. Her style evolved from the back of horses, where she found she could move quicker and get up high enough to capture the action and the sweeping vistas of the land in front of her. Her photography often incorporates natural elements—dust, snow, rain, lightning, clouds—which add atmospheric dimension to her work.

Anna Paige is a Montana-based journalist, poet and educator. She is originally from Wyoming and has lived in Billings for more than a decade, where she co-founded Young Poets, winner of the 2021 Library of Congress Award for Literacy.
Corby Skinner is an independent marketing professional with an enormous capacity for assessing issues and creating positive, effective messages.