It's a bountiful life: Udderly unique
Jan./Feb. 2015 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Ching Lee
Photos by Matt Salvo
Behind the scenes with the Bovine Beautician
More online:The conversation continues
Bovine Beautician Frank Robinson travels throughout the U.S. and Canada taking pictures of cattle.
Getting cows to say "cheese" is all in a day's work for Frank Robinson of Lodi, also known as the Bovine Beautician. Robinson has been taking portraits of bovines—mostly dairy but also some beef cattle—for nearly 30 years. His photos appear in catalogs, brochures, flyers and websites to promote and sell the animals and their offspring.
How did you get into this business?
I grew up on a small dairy farm in Ontario, Canada. We used to show cows, like at fairs. I'd get them ready by washing them, grooming them. People realized I was pretty good at it, so I started doing it for other people. While working in California, a photographer asked me if I was interested in taking pictures. I said, "Sure."
What qualities do you try to show?
With a dairy cow, you want a good-shaped udder with their teats hanging straight down, good feet and legs. With beef cattle, you want to show the muscling, a frame that will carry a lot of meat.
What's the trick to getting the animals to stay still and look good?
We like to go in beforehand and spend a little time with them, rubbing on them and brushing them. They do quiet down. We clip their hair on top to make them straighter. We shave their udders and trim their feet. The day we do the picture, we have one person up front making noise to get their attention, to get them to lift their head, to give them more style.
What makes a good bovine photographer?
Patience is the key. You've got to like cows and you've got to like working with them.
Robinson typically uses several assistants during his photo shoots, such as at this San Joaquin County dairy, to help him work with the animals, including washing and grooming them, left. Robinson's resulting portrait is shown below.
Do you have assistants?
I go into different areas and we'll hire people. For smaller farms, they'll get their neighbors or friends to come and help. It's nice to have four people other than myself when we're doing a picture.
Do you fight the weather much, like if it's pouring rain on picture day?
We used to (take the cows) out to the fields and mow a spot (of grass) where we'd set them up, so you can see their feet. Now with digital (photography), where we can change the backgrounds, even if it's muddy and dirty, we'll find a place inside, under cover, that we can work.
What's a typical week for you?
Like last week, I started in Canada and from there, I went to Wisconsin for three days, and then I was down in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, then back up to Michigan. The next few days I'll be down in Fresno and Tulare. Next week, I'm doing stuff locally. My business is in Lodi; that's home. Then I'll be in Oregon, Washington and Idaho at the end of the month. After that, I'll fly back to Canada and then go to Pennsylvania and Kentucky. I put on a few miles.