The gaucho, which loosely translated means “cowboy” still lives and rides under the sun of the great open plains of Argentina, and we might imagine, as the epic poem by Jose Fernandes tells, lays at night with his couch a clover of the plain and shining stars above. More possible though, and paralleling the West of North America, as the open pampas of South America were bought up and cross-fenced into gigantic estancias (ranches), the gauchos of today have too, perhaps been tamed, considered more likely as employed ranch hands than the nearly mythic horsemen of rebellion and independence they were seen as in colonial times.
Still, there is something about the three-centuries old proud and free-ranging lifestyle of the gaucho that inspires us today. The gaucho had and carries on a certain style –resplendent in textiles and the colors and patterns of the southwest. The gauchos have their own beauty, and it is an elusive study in a freedom and independence, and a sort of a pride, most of us can’t grasp.
Photographer Jimmy Nelson, captured this style and essence in a series of photos he shot for his book, Before They Pass Away. He photographed in a style reminiscent of Edward Curtis, setting his subjects up in their landscape, posing them with a certain theatricality critics had earlier disparaged Curtis for, but whatever you wanted to think or say about them, you can hardly deny the powerfulness of the staged portraits.
The gauchos are now the stuff of legend. Revered for their powerful hardiness, refusal to succumb to the colonial idea of progress, and examples of a freedom we can all yearn for. We follow their example, study their textiles and clothing, pause over their highly prized accouterments and emulate them in our own sense of style.
Top designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Ralph Lauren periodically set a gaucho-inspired tone in their Paris runway shows.
Double D Ranchwear notes that Nelson’s photographs of the Argentinian gauchos heavily influenced their gaucho-inspired lines of late.
I am a gaucho, and take this from me as my tongue explains it to you. For me the earth is a small place and could be bigger yet. The snake does not bite me, nor the sun burn my brow.
It is my glory to live as free as a bird in the sky.
I make no nest on this ground where there’s so much to be suffered, and no one follows me when I take to flight again.
In love I have no one to come to me with quarrels.
Like those beautiful birds that go hopping from branch to branch I make my bed in the clover and the stars cover me.
~ The Gaucho Martin Fierro by Jose Fernandez