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The Italian Cowboys of Maremma (I Butteri di Maremma)

Gabrielle Saveri | California, Italy

Organization: www.gabriellesaveri.com

Two riders at rest on a long cattle drive. Pitigliano, Italy, 2016.

My photographic work consists of a series of images depicting Italy's cattlemen and horse breeders, otherwise known as I Butteri. The number of authentic working cowboys in Italy is rapidly decreasing -- it is believed there are less than 50 left in the whole country. My photographs were taken between 2013 and 2017 in Maremma, the region spanning from northern Lazio to southern Tuscany. My hope through my work is to document and help preserve the historic traditions of the butteri, and to capture the culture of the appassionati, the men and women throughout Italy, who love and have adopted the ways of the indigenous cowboys of the region.

Most people don't know that Italy has its own tradition of cowboys. I have been photographing the cowboys of Italy (I Butteri) since 2013. Each summer, I have travelled to Maremma, the region spanning from the plains of northern Lazio up through southern Tuscany, to photograph Italian horsemen (and women) in an attempt to capture their rich cultural traditions, and their deep connection to their beloved cattle and land.

I have loved horses all of my life. During the 1990s, when I was working as a reporter in Italy, I heard stories about the Italian cowboys but had no idea know how to find them. It wasn't until years later that I found my way to Alberese, ground zero for the butteri, and finally had the opportunity to ride with them. For me, an Italian American with an upbringing straddling both cultures, it was a dream-come-true.

My fascination with the butteri stems from my admiration for the beauty and rich history behind the Maremma horsemen and cattle breeders, which dates back to Etruscan times, as well as for their powerful connection to their horses, livestock and the land. But their existence is now threatened.

It is estimated that there are currently less than 50 working butteri left in Italy who use using the ancient mestiere or craft of the cowboy. Most working cowboys earn their living on large farms that raise cattle and horses and produce olive oil, grains, pasta, and other agricultural products. The work is hard and the wages are low. This, combined with a severe economic recession in Italy, has caused many potential cowboys to search out other work. The future of the Italian cowboy is now threatened.

My photographic series consists of images of a number of different groups of Italian cowboys – the “real” authentic cowboys who continue to work breeding cattle and raising horses, and the appassionati, a mixed group of young and old Italian men and women from diverse backgrounds who have fallen in love with Italian cowboy culture, donning traditional clothing, embracing historical cowboy traditions, to keep the history alive.

Given the current plight of our environment worldwide, I believe it is more important than ever to document cultures that honor the powerful qualities and energies of nature. The butteri have a deep respect for their natural environment, and their colorful, historical equestrian traditions are unique. Their world is rapidly disappearing, and for this reason, I feel inspired to continue photographing their beautiful culture through my photographic lens before it disappears completely.   

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