MANIFESTO

#63

CHANGE OF SPACE

Eight Seconds.
Black Rodeo Culture

2024.04.05

Text by Francesca Fontanesi

The new photobook by Ivan McClellan is a glorious tribute to contemporary Black rodeo culture across America, and tells the story of a community that through sport and love for their land bridges the past, present, and future.

Eight endless seconds is the time that cowboys must stay on a bull during a rodeo. And the more the animal bucks, the higher the score will be. The book Eight Seconds: Black Rodeo Culture by photographer Ivan McClellan published by Damiani Books tells the world of rodeos dedicated to celebrating African American cowboys, the story of a community that through sport and love for their land bridges the past, present, and future. McClellan, born in Kansas City in 1982, is a photojournalist and designer based in Portland, Oregon. Thanks to his shots of black rodeo athletes, McClellan has created advertising campaigns for Wrangler, Stetson, and Ariat. His works are now exhibited in numerous museums and galleries across the United States. His camera captures the determined gaze of the man struggling to stay in the saddle, with one hand gripping a rope while the free arm swings uncontrollably in the air.

I’ve encountered thousands of Black cowboys. Young ones shirtless with gold chains, riding their horses in basketball shorts. There were elders with perfect Stetsons and pinky rings. Women with braids and acrylic nails. Barrel races. I kept coming back.

 

 

As a child, McClellan participates in the American Royal Rodeo with his school choir to sing the event’s national anthem. Despite already being familiar with rodeo, McClellan loses an important point of interest as he grows, one that would ultimately change his perspective as an artist and creative. After establishing himself as a designer and photographer, he recounts never being interested in country things until 2015: he was already working and living in Portland when he met director Charles Perry. Perry introduced him to a documentary about Black cowboys produced by himself, and that same summer, McClellan decided to go with him to a rodeo in Oklahoma. His eyes immediately felt comforted by the dichotomy of the people crowding the gates.

JADAYIA KURSH, OKMULGEE, OKLAHOMA. © IVAN MCCLELLAN.
KEARY HINES, PRAIRIE VIEW, TEXAS. © IVAN MCCLELLAN.
DONTEZ & FLOSS, OKMULGEE, OKLAHOMA. © IVAN MCCLELLAN.

The Black Rodeo originated when many African American cowboys and cowgirls realized they couldn’t compete in conventional rodeos. Rodeo sports are costly, and when families couldn’t afford the necessary equipment, they were forced to participate in events with different rules. The Black Rodeo was conceived to create a more equitable playing field: by making the sport accessible to a greater number of people, it allowed African American cowgirls and cowboys to compete at a professional level. Through this photographic project, McClellan aims to reclaim the mythology and history of Western portraits: Eight Seconds offers the artist who conceived it the opportunity to explore their own identity and transmit the culture that shaped them, even if they were often not fully aware of it. McClellan accomplishes this primarily by narrating his first solo exhibition in Cody, Wyoming, considered the world capital of rodeo. In his book, instead, he represents friendship, community, and the sense of belonging necessary to nurture meaningful relationships within this peculiar cultural sphere. McClellan doesn’t just photograph but seeks to establish a more profound and significant dialogue, redefining the idea of Western history and identity in this specific context, sharing the stories and subsequent observations that emerge from his photographic lens. With each passing season, a story worthy of being told is hidden.

“This knowledge of black cowboys in my hometown transformed my perception of home away from a place of poverty and violence to a place of independence and grit”.

– Ivan McClellan

RODNEY & RJ, MCCALLA, ALABAMA. © IVAN MCCLELLAN.
IMAGE OF THE BOOK EIGHT SECONDS: BLACK RODEO CULTURE BY IVAN MCCLELLAN.
PUBLISHED BY DAMIANI BOOKS.
IMAGE OF THE BOOK EIGHT SECONDS: BLACK RODEO CULTURE BY IVAN MCCLELLAN.
PUBLISHED BY DAMIANI BOOKS.
IMAGE OF THE BOOK EIGHT SECONDS: BLACK RODEO CULTURE BY IVAN MCCLELLAN.
PUBLISHED BY DAMIANI BOOKS.
IMAGE OF THE BOOK EIGHT SECONDS: BLACK RODEO CULTURE BY IVAN MCCLELLAN.
PUBLISHED BY DAMIANI BOOKS.
IMAGE OF THE BOOK EIGHT SECONDS: BLACK RODEO CULTURE BY IVAN MCCLELLAN.
PUBLISHED BY DAMIANI BOOKS.
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