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We too are cowboys

Kevin McKeon | Texas, United States

Brock Taylor and Wyatt Raymond await their turn at a Jackpot rodeo, this one held at the backyard arena of Ashton "Bud" Simeon. In Cheek, many of the cowboys maintain small family arenas on their property, and share them freely with any and all neighbors.

It’s hard to think of an icon more inseparable from the very idea of America than that of the mythical American cowboy - tough, hard-working and fiercely independent. Against the backdrop of an endless Western landscape, he mends barbed-wire fences, brands cattle, and breaks wild horses. He’s the stuff of Hollywood legend, of sepia-toned Western cowboy photography, and of $500-a-nite dude ranches catering to wide-eyed city slickers. And he's almost always white.

But there’s another iconic American cowboy. He lives in a small rural community, pays his bills by working 9-to-5 in a cement plant or a warehouse, maintains a simple ranch home on a small piece of family land, and continues to carry on a revered tradition that’s four or five generations deep – a tradition rooted in sport, rich in history, and fundamental to every aspect of his community life and deep personal values. He’s the rural black rodeo cowboy. And he's an essential part of our great American cowboy history.

For me the best projects are always the ones that take me down a path that I had not initially expected or planned on. In February 2022, I had the good fortune to meet a group of Black rodeo cowboys from the small rural town of Cheek, in Southeastern Texas. Over the course of the year, I spent many weeks with these men, watching them train, hearing their stories and traveling aound the state and beyond to photograph them competing, socializing and supporting each other. Despite the fact that rodeo does not provide anything close to a living wage for the vast majority of these men, it is central to every aspect of their deeply interconnected daily lives. Like most people, I came into this project with a certain romantic image of the American cowboy. These men both exemplify the American cowboy spirit, and defy the cliches most of us associate with it.

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