From “Just Say Moo” by Virginia Thorndike in our July 1994 issue. Photos by Mark Jenson.
These are portraits of prize cows and heifers. It was not as easy to take these pictures as you might think. Cows are not particularly interested in posing just so
— and there definitely is a “just so” pose. Notice how alert they are, how straight their backs, how they stand so you can see their beautiful, rounded udders. This usually means not milking her that morning — which may not make her feel any more enthusiastic about posing. So you’d better have a crew lined up. Cows are big animals.
Mark Jenson is one of a handful of photographers who make their living taking portraits of cattle. In his pockets he has scissors and a comb and a few spray cans: part of his skill is in cow hairdressing. In addition to Mark, there are five other people at the shoot. One is the leadsperson, who not only controls the cow, but places her head, raising or lowering it, and turning her neck just right. The leadsperson — at least an arm, sometimes a stomach — can almost always be seen in the photograph. Sometimes the entire leads-person is there, in a grotesque position and with an agonized expression. No one minds. This is a picture of a cow.
Today, fewer than 10 photographers specialize in cow pedigree portraiture in North America, none of them in New England. The closest is Jenny Thomas, of Ohio, who works with several Maine farmers. Other than the cow’s head being held a bit higher these days, these seedstock portraits haven’t changed much. And it still takes a team of attendants to photograph a cow: one each on the head and tail, two on the shoulders, and a fifth who makes noise to elicit a perfect bovine gaze.