Cowboy Ken in US competition

HATS OFF: Tylden farmerK Shuman is in the running to win the 18th annual Smithsonian photo competition. Shuman, who is an amateur model and photographer, said he took up taking cowboy portraits as a hobby Picture: SUPPLIED

A warm smile and a penchant for Western-styled hats have garnered a local farmer some international attention and a chance to bag a great cash prize.

Old Queenian and Tylden-based farmer, Ken Shuman, is a finalist in the Smithsonian annual photo contest for his stunning cowboy portraits.

Shuman, a fifth-generation farmer, said he did not know his love for taking pictures as an Afrikaner version of a cowboy would make so many people happy and give him a chance to win an international competition. The reticent Shuman said the idea to enter the competition was suggested by a friend who had come to admire his pictures after following him online.

“I was just taking the pictures to put up on my Facebook. He was the one who broached the idea of the competition. I am a very reserved person and was not really keen on the idea at first. He encouraged me, saying the photographs really deserved to get more exposure,” said Shuman.

The competition is run by the Smithsonian Institute magazine, a journal based in Washington DC. It is published by the Smithsonian, a group of museums and research centres.

Now in its 18th year, the contest has six broad categories which include the natural world, travel, people, the American experience, altered images and mobile. Shuman is a finalist in the Mr Cowboy sub-category.

The Xhosa cowboy, as Shuman has come to be known because of his look and love for the local language, said passion for the Western look was completely accidental.

“I always loved caps. Being a farmer we all love our caps and are given so many. One day I was at the a men’s clothing store and realised I had never bought a cowboy hat. I tried it out and people starting complimenting the new look,” he said.

About making the cut from the pool of thousands of international entrants, he said he was both surprised and humbled.

“Surprised because I never thought my photos would do anything international. I am humbled as people I do not know find my art-style portraits appealing. I am honoured that professional judges  think the work I do is good enough.”

Apart from the internal reception and recognition Shuman has now garnered, he said what made it special was the smile it brought to people.

“I have often been told the pictures have a way of conveying my personality. I really try and put in a lot of work and it is great to know I am touching people in such a positive way. One of the captions that goes with a picture I like reads ‘A smile costs nothing, but gives much. It enriches those who receive it without making poor those who give,'” said Shuman.

The winner of the grand prize will walk away with $2500 (R43 125) while the winner of each category takes home $500 (R8 625). There will also be a readers’ choice award, also with a $500 prize. Winners will be announced in September, with the winning portraits posted online and shown in the Smithsonian magazine.

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