I grew up pretty close to Shady Dale, Georgia, but I didn’t attend my first Shady Dale Rodeo until I was well into my 20s. It was about 6-7 years ago, when I was working as a photographer for the Griffin Daily News. I was blown away that this had been going on right up the road from me for most of my life and I had yet to attend. I immediately fell in love with rodeos and the people who attend them.
So I decided to go back this year and document the event, which is in it’s 30th year. My lovely girlfriend, Wendi Bozeman, and myself made the trip up past Monticello to this one-horse town (rodeo humor!) on Friday and Saturday night. And this isn’t just some backyard rodeo — it’s a pro event. It is produced by the Southern Rodeo Company, is sanctioned by the International Professional Rodeo Association.
Rodeos have such an authenticity to them, even more so now to me than my first trip. It is such a break from everything else that I do. The dirt, the leather, the tobacco, the hats — they combine into a perfect mix of wild west nostalgia that is runs deep for many Americans, myself included. This nostalgia is chronicled extremely well in William Albert Allard‘s collection of photographs that appeared in his book, Vanishing Breed: Photographs of the Cowboy and the West. Published in 1984, this book is full of spectacular, larger-than-life portraits and vignettes of everyday cowboy life. I bring this book up because I recently checked it out at the local library. And while I had no idea (when I checked it out) that I would soon be covering a rodeo, it definitely had an influence on how I photographed the event.
And these riders do this stuff week in and week out. For money. Trey Moore, 19, of Summerville, Georgia (portrait below), drove to Illinois for a rodeo on Friday night, only to drive back to Georgia for the Shady Dale Rodeo on Saturday.
I know that rodeos are a long way from the life of moving cattle that cowboys in the west lived and died doing (and Allard chronicled), but it’s as close as I’ll ever come to it in Georgia.