About the Work of Art:

Luther Smith (b. 1950)
Bullrider 1985, High School Rodeo, Mineral Wells, TX, 1985
Gelatin silver print
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
© 1985, Luther Smith, Gift of the artist


Luther Smith (b. 1950), Bullrider 1985, High School Rodeo, Mineral Wells, TX, 1985, gelatin silver print, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, © 1985, Luther Smith, Gift of the artist, P1996.5.4






Bullrider 1985, High School Rodeo, Mineral Wells, TX is part of a series of photographs in which Smith examines high school rodeo participants in Texas. In 1986 Smith photographed the finals of the North Texas High School Rodeo Association competition, held annually in Fort Worth.

In an interview in January 2001, Smith responded to the following questions about his high school rodeo series:

When and how did high school rodeo competitions become significant to you?

It really had more to do with kids growing up. I had done a series on high schools in Illinois. I tried to continue that series when I came to Texas . . . I discovered the North Texas High School Rodeo Association. As a result of going to their finals and making some photographs, I started a project working on them. I was around this particular young man a number of times before I made this picture [the young man in Bullrider 1985, High School Rodeo, Mineral Wells, TX].

Did you get a sense of what it was like to be a young bull rider, such as the one you photographed in 1985?

I was quite close to him when I made this picture . . . maybe at the most eight or ten feet away. This guy was quite small, too, and he was the best bull rider in that group by a long way.

What compelled you to pursue images of high school rodeos?

From the time I started making photographs, I always wanted to photograph high school kids. Have no idea why, but I didn’t do it in the beginning because I was too close to their age. There’s something about that age group that’s really interesting to me. They’re children becoming adults. I was at a high school rodeo [practically] every Sunday afternoon. That body of work shows a period of time, style, attitude. . . . I really like rodeo kids . . . because they are just really tough. They are really capable people. If you’re in trouble, they’re the people you want on your side.

He seems to display a certain level of maturity, perhaps from the seriousness of the sport, the life and death aspect.

He’s a small guy. He’s gonna get on this giant bull. I don’t remember if he rode that day or not. It’s a dangerous and serious event. The fact that he chose to do it indicates the type of person he is. I think it is kind of interesting because the lower part of his face doesn’t have much expression but the top part has a sort of worried look.

Did you get to know the people involved in the high school rodeo images personally? Do you know where these subjects are today?

No, I haven’t. I thought about trying to go back and re-photograph, and I may end up doing that.

Do you still photograph high school rodeo competitions?

No, not really.

Do you have any final remarks or comments?

Something that is real interesting . . . is how art affects the way you think about things. When I was photographing [Bullrider] . . . I went out there wearing basically what was my uniform at the time . . . I had a little leather jacket that I wore all the time and I dressed like a university professor. [I had a] beard . . . and soon I realized that in order to fit in with those kids, if I dressed more like them, they would feel comfortable with me being there. So I bought a cowboy hat . . . wore boots.

Reminiscing, looking at the photograph, Smith adeds:

Erik Stevens is his name [the young man in Bullrider].


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