A Stunning Visual Celebration of Black Rodeo

In several frames of the artist Arthur Jafa’s seminal 2016 video collage of Black America, “Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death,” a felled bullrider scoops himself off the dirt.

It’s a moment anatomized in rich circumstantial detail by Ivan McClellan’s EIGHT SECONDS: Black Rodeo Culture (Damiani, $49.95). A convert to Black rodeo, the Kansas City, Kan., native understands that its stated purpose — eight seconds on an angry animal — conceals a whole world of tailgating, parading, mucking, rehearsal and style.

Rob, Rico, KB and Leka, Moorseboro, N.C.Credit…Ivan McClellan

Avery “Spanky” Ford, Las VegasCredit…Ivan McClellan

A retired bullrider strokes a muzzle in Oklahoma, his jewelry glinting; a toddler holds a riding crop in a truck bed; and a shirtless boy sips soda out of a can while a horse nuzzles for hay nearby. A man in a Compton Cowboys beanie nurses a blunt in his California horse pen. McClellan reveals, as Jafa does to more tragic effect, that even the quickest glimpses of a subculture can turn into spectacle.

Clarke Flowers, Cornelius, Ore.Credit…Ivan McClellan
Ronnie and Vallie, Jones, Okla.Credit…Ivan McClellan

Details like these revise the membership of an antique American archetype. So do McClellan’s vivid equestrian portraits, where a woman’s cable-knit sweater rhymes with her horse’s white braids and a stoic rider stands wrapped in a bridle the same blue as his headphones, his arms laced with intricate tattoos.

Jadayia Kursh, Okmulgee, Okla.Credit…Ivan Mcclellan
Handoff, Okmulgee, Okla.Credit…Ivan Mcclellan

Because the photos are presented without places or dates, this respectful and revealing book can reasonably be taken as a portrait both national and timeless: an ur-text for the recent rodeo turn of Beyoncé, or the heady western meditations of Jordan Peele.

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