Behind the Lens: Pirate Photographer, Hans Watson

stockshowblog, News

Are you a pirate? a young child asks photographer Hans Watson at the 2024 National Western Stock Show. A black cowboy hat, eye patch, and dual cameras portray volunteer house photographer, Hans Watson, as a pirate. Stock Show 2024 marks his 12th year volunteering as a photographer. 

NWSS House Photographer, Hans Watson

As a house photographer, Hans works directly with the Marketing and Sponsorship departments. According to Danielle Lewis the Creative Director, “We couldn’t do our jobs without them.” As a non-profit organization, Stock Show relies heavily on their volunteers. Hans notes “It’s not just me but a great team of photographers and volunteers.” Specifically, marketing works directly with Hans to capture materials needed for their yearly campaigns. As a photographer during the 16 days of Stock Show Hans captures the various activities and events National Western has to offer. In his photography, he shows that there is more than rodeo and livestock events taking place on the grounds. 

Before moving to Denver, CO, and volunteering his time and talents at National Western, Hans Watson worked in the Tech Industry. While working in tech, Hans dabbled in photography primarily shooting concerts. However, in 2005 his vision was impacted by a stroke that temporarily took all his vision. For a period of time, Hans was completely blind but slowly regained some but not all of his vision. An occupational therapist recommended Hans take up photography as a way to help strengthen and recover his vision. He started capturing rodeos in Texas as a way to get more time behind the camera. Whenever he saw the rodeo lights on, Hans was taking photos. This opportunity allowed Hans to build an extensive portfolio to bring with him wherever he goes. Personal reasons brought him from Texas to Denver, CO where he was able to showcase his photographs and portfolio when beginning his work at National Western as a volunteer. 

Hans has experienced evident challenges and setbacks in his life, but he continued his journey no matter the barrier. Some may say that his stroke was a bad thing that happened to him, but he “sees” it as a great change and an opportunity to reinvent himself. Rather than letting the loss of his vision get him down, Hans gained a new appreciation of the world’s beauty. 

Photography is an art that takes practice and time with no guarantee of results. Typically, a photographer will keep both eyes open when shooting. It allows you to use your peripheral vision to monitor what is happening outside your point of fixation. For instance, if you are shooting in a rodeo with a fixation point of a bucking horse you want to use the eye you are not focusing the camera with to monitor your surroundings, so you aren’t hit by anything or anyone within the arena. Hans stays outside of the arena as a way of protection since he lost his peripheral vision. It can be challenging to photograph with impaired vision because it affects situational awareness. 

NWSS Volunteer photographers: Rob King and Hans Watson

With over 12 years of experience, Hans knows what to expect in addition to what to shoot. For example, a horse bucks highest on its second buck. Being an active and annual volunteer for Stock Show has provided Hans with years of experience and knowledge. He works directly with marketing to cover and capture what they are looking for. The volunteer photographers work together sharing tips and experiences with one another.

There is a level of surprise when people hear that the photographer behind the lens is visually impaired. However, no one would be able to tell from the photographer’s amazing images and ability. Hans has several well-known photographs in addition to his work being used on souvenir cups, billboards, trains, etc. His photos reflect his love and passion rather than his disability. Hans has an appreciation for sharing new experiences with others. His photos have reached and impacted individuals who have never been to or experienced Stock Show before. He says it is an honor seeing people enjoy his photography and that others want to use it. 

Blog post by: Alicia Thern, 2024 NWSS Marketing & Communications Intern

Alicia is currently a student at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay seeking a design, marketing, and communications degree.