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Sarah Hoskins’ sensitive look on rodeo in the 1980s


In her series Racetracks and Rodeos, photographer Sarah Hoskins followed the protagonists of this famous American show, mostly before and after the action. The results are soft and unusual images.

I was heading back to Chicago after an extensive road trip and made a short stop in Cheyenne, WY long enough to learn that I had just missed “The granddaddy of them all.” “You need to come back, its the biggest and best rodeo there is” was repeated everywhere from the diner to the western wear shop where I stopped long enough to try on a pair of boots that I could not afford, but was allowed to put on layaway with $10 in cash. The boots eventually paid off and sent to my Chicago apartment. The next year I put them on and went back to Cheyenne and so it began.

At that time, I had a 1984 Ford F150 pick-up truck with a stick shift on the floor and a cap on the back, my rodeo road home. I stayed in a camp ground for about $8 bucks a night and a cup of coffee was a quarter. I didn’t spend much time there, only enough to crawl in and out of my truck and get a few hours of sleep in between time trials in the morning and Coors Lite at night, not my beer of choice. The daily routine was walk across the campground, shower, grab about. 75 cents worth of coffee and head out to the rodeo grounds. The mornings were spent with the ropers and bull doggers who would see if their times would qualify for the big show. A free lunch at the press trailer and then the back gates would open roughly around noon.

The cowboys would cross over and through to the “ready area”. The place where the cowboys would do just that, get ready. Whether it would be stretching, praying or taping up and around and over. I would flash my press pass and walk in. They weren’t real sure what to make of me. Was I a “Buckle Bunny?”, a term I came to know meaning a woman who was looking for a winning cowboy. The tell-tale sign of rodeo wins were belt buckle prizes, brass and silver belt buckles holding up jeans. Or was I just a “Lady Photographer” as I was often called. I knew horses so that helped, and I earned myself a little respect. Perhaps more in the knowing of horses than the fact that I was allowed into the arena during the bull riding events to photograph. They weren’t too sure what to make of that, the arena was their holy ground. I am not sure if they thought I was brave or just crazy or perhaps a little of both. Or maybe I wasn’t so different from them, that 8 second wild rush of adrenaline.

Ah my twenties… the truck now replaced by a Toyota Prius; those old Nikon manual focus cameras replaced by Canon digital. The speed needed to run up and over the fence in under 8 seconds from a charging bull a bit faded, but not my Kodachrome find. Slides filed away from my long-ago life. I received a much-needed scanner from my daughter this past Christmas. The scanner was to be used for a different body of work, these were my tests. It all came flooding back just like that and I was there. These images are not so much about the action, but more about those moments of youth and the dance before the big show at the rodeo.



Sarah Hoskins

Sarah Hoskins is a Midwest based documentary photographer working in Chicago, IL and Lexington, KY, USA.

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