I’ve been thinking about this photo for several years as we have written about the meanings of barbed wire.
Our original title was Intimate Fences, borrowed from a haunting story by Annie Proulx. The story is about an old man who has been trying to escape the decay that comes with aging (he rides an exercycle) who returns to the Wyoming ranch he fled as a young man. He remembers the “intimate” barbed wire fences he constructed to ranch profitably and to protect himself from the alcoholism and overt sexuality of his father and his lascivious girlfriend. No fences remain taut, of course, and fences extract their own costs.
The editors at Texas A&M University Press convinced us to change the title to a phrase from early advertising: The Perfect Fence. As conflicted as barbed wire is — and any fence used in the conquest of the American West and to control animals through pain is deeply conflicted — the fence became ubiquitous throughout the West, including in Colorado, where the photo was taken.
This looks like a good fence, its wires taut and the stile that allows the fisherwoman to cross in good shape. She looks happy, even proud of herself in this moment. Despite her dress, she is out in the hills with a long fishing rod in the company of whomever is holding the camera. By means of the stile she can cross a fence meant to control cattle and horses. By means of her adventuresome spirit she crosses at least some of the gendered fences meant to keep women at home and in town. At least that’s how I see this scene.
We didn’t end up using this photo for our book. But I didn’t want to waste it. And so here it is.
Corrected page proofs sent back yesterday. Publication scheduled for November 1.