Rodeos are tough to shoot. It’s a fact.
First, these events are a cacophony of activity, often in hazy weather (at least in Nebraska; New Mexico rodeos are much, much different light–overwhelmingly good) that softens shadows and decreases drama in images. In such times, making good photographic decisions becomes even more critical.
Moreover, there’s a tendency to focus on the act of rodeo itself. Did he make eight? Did she tip a barrel? The ring becomes too overbearing in its demands for attention, and breaking away from that to focus on the backstory (a place many professionals call “the fringes”) can be a nervous gamble.
And then there’s luck. Just like the cowboys, the rodeo photographer’s image depends on the draw. I love to shoot in the pens; at every rodeo, they’re different. Some are old wood, weathered and worn, while others are white steel that glares in the evening sun. Is it cloudy? Hazy? Where is the sun? They aren’t going to reschedule the event so I can get better light, and thus I’m at the mercy of nature when it comes to shove.
But at the O’Neill rodeo in July, luck smiled on me at least once.
I continued to experiment with expressionist techniques during my entire time in Colorado this year, working to find ways of incorporating the light, textures, lines and shadows that make secluded forest groves so mystical for me, while simultaneously paying homage to the brush strokes so critical to that artistic period.
I am a formalist in my compositions most often; in other words, the forms and structures of objects are of great visual inspiration for me. Translation: I like abstracts. Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, de Kooning, Clifford Still all carry great emotional weight for me, and often, my photographs exhibit this influence.
I have a habit of venturing out into the worst kinds of weather: blizzards, electrical storms, violent thunderstorms. Why? Bad weather makes good photographs. So as powerful thunderstorms charged with strong lightning moved east of our cabin in central Colorado, I jumped in the truck and sped toward them, hoping for strong evening light as a visual emphasis as the sun broke beneath the clouds.
I turned onto a muddy forest service road, threw the truck in 4H, turned my back to the sun, and composed my shot–and waited. And with the last gasp of daylight, the sunlight broke from the clouds and lit the ranch. Magic, I say. Magic.
As promised, here’s one of the last two images I made of Cathy Hervert, a ranch worker who lives in Buffalo County, Nebraska, but roams all over the state in living her ranch life.
I’ll return to Cathy Hervert. There are two more images from the shoot to publish, but since variety is the spice of life (sorry for the cliche), I wanted to send this out first. I’ve long been fascinated with the textures of leather and the textures of lives, and decided on using well-traveled boots to interweave the two ideas.
This is one of my favorite images from my shoot with Cathy Hervert, a treatise on the surfaces, patterns, textures and shapes in the artwork that is the American western saddle.