Hendrix’ photo exhibition captures ‘Joy and Pain’ of rodeo
Carbondale-based photographer pulls from substantial body of work for first R2 Gallery exhibition
George Hendrix has seen the rodeo. He’s seen the wild eyes and frothing mouths of bulls, and the bodies of ejected cowboys tumbling on the arena grounds. He’s seen determined young women steering pretty horses around barrels, and children — the next generation of rodeo riders — strengthening their grips deep in sheep’s wool.
Starting this Friday in the R2 Gallery inside the Launchpad, the public will have a chance to see all of that and much more as Carbondale Arts presents “Ropes and Reins, Joy and Pain,” the first exhibition of Hendrix’ work at the gallery.
“I’ve been shooting the rodeo fairly regularly for about 10 years now — eight years in earnest as I began edging into retirement,” Hendrix said. “I’ve built up a substantial, almost overwhelming body of work, like you tend to do if you shoot any sort of sport.”
But despite this proliferation of gritty photos and the deep dive into the local rodeo culture it took for him to create them, Hendrix says he is no cowboy.
“I’m a townie, but I’m a small town Kansas townie,” he said. “I had a lot of friends who grew up on farms, and the Oklahoma branch of my family — they’re all country people and they all rodeoed, so I was around horses a lot.”
Hendrix’ interest in rodeos really began when, as a reporter for the Scottsbluff Star Herald in the late ’70s and early ’80s, he was assigned to cover the county fair. That interest increased after he attended the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo, and later during his career as a magazine writer when rodeos became the subject of a few of the stories he wrote.
“What amazes me is how fluid these people are with their horses,” he said. “They’re really athletes. You don’t do that by just getting on a horse and getting comfortable with the horse. Your body has to be able to do that.”
Hendrix said he particularly enjoys the Carbondale Rodeo, because “it’s like the biggest warm weather party in the valley.”
“It just gets this amazing mix of people. You get all these country folk from the Western Slope, all the townies from the valley, and then you get tourists from all over the world,” he said. “There’s Amish and Menonites from Pennsylvania. One night I hung out with some guys from France.”
Hendrix said that one of the things he likes most about rodeo photography is that, unlike traditional ball and team sports, everyone has their own personal style.
“You have to wear western garb in the arena, but it can be any kind of western garb you want,” he said. “And you can see their faces, although you do have to try to get a line under those hats. It makes my day when somebody’s hat falls off. Particularly in barrel races — their hat comes off and their hair starts streaming back and flows the same way as the horse’s — it makes for a real pretty shot.”
Hendrix also does formal portraits, candid street photography, and something he calls “scruffy landscape photos.”
“Not the classic beautiful sunset stuff, but a pine scene with a dead car somewhere in there.
“But I’m a journalist. I’ll shoot whatever’s in front of me if what I really want to do isn’t available. If you like to take pictures, you like to take pictures.”
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