Cowboy Kate and Other Stories: Director's Cut by Sam Haskins

Rizzoli, 192 pages, $45
By CHARLES TAYLOR  |  December 5, 2006

If you can find one, an original copy of Sam Haskins’s 1964 photo collection Cowboy Kate will cost you hundreds of dollars — in mint condition, thousands. Rizzoli’s new edition, including several new “stories” and the “director’s cut” of Cowboy Kate, is a delight: an amalgam of fashion photography, pin-up art, and photo essay.

The title tale (preceded by Desmond Skirrow’s prose outline), is an impressionistic Western with a young woman in the traditionally male role of the cowpoke who gets into a card game and then into trouble. “Impressionistic” doesn’t just refer to the scanty wardrobe — mere panties, gun belt, and hat in some shots — but to Haskins’s method. He directs the eye the way a filmmaker chooses shots. One character’s demise is denoted by a shot of daisies, as in “pushing up . . . ” This make-do technique adds to the wit. The soft, backlit black-and-white photograph lends an overall effect that’s both erotic and lyrical, as if a young man’s daydreams of sex and adventure had gotten all mixed together. The other stories here attest to Haskins’s love of women, particularly those who exhibit what you might call a fresh-scrubbed naughtiness. There are some parallels from the period: the glamour photos of Wingate Paine; Bert Stern’s more tongue-in-cheek work. But, utterly devoid of chilly chic or aestheticism, Haskins’s playfulness is all his own.

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