“I was always acutely aware that there were less women shearers,” photographer Nich Hance McElroy said of photographing women shearers up and down the West Coast for Vogue. But last year, when he began shearing on commercial crews for a shearer and sheep rancher named Robert Irwin, McElroy noticed more and more women working on flocks – many who Irwin actively recruited. Some were already farmers or gardeners themselves, some were tech professionals in the Bay Area with a back-to-the-land mind-set, some were part-time knitters who wondered why it was next to impossible to find local wool. McElroy began photographing them, too.
“I really think, going forward, it’s going to be women doing farm work,” Irwin told me recently by phone from California. “The last five years or so, teaching guys to do this stuff, a lot of them just don’t have the mentality of waking up and thinking to themselves, ‘I’m going to get better at this.’ The women do. They’re more apt to stick with this; they’re more detail-oriented; they’re tougher.”