Earlier this year when planning our trip to North Carolina, I saw the ideal opportunity to fulfil my ambition to photograph a rodeo.
After much time spent with Google, I settled on the Bar W Rodeo. My decision was based in no small part on the fact it is held at the brilliantly named Cutworms Corral, a proper actual corral! The Cutworms Corral is close to Hayesville, NC, we found a chalet to rent on Chatuge Lake, just outside Hiawassee which is about 15 miles away across the border in Georgia.
North Carolina is an incredibly beautiful part of the country bounded to the west by the Appalachian mountains and the east by the Atlantic ocean. As you fly into Raleigh/Durham airport, the landscape all the way to the horizon is entirely carpeted with trees. The buildings and roads are on land neatly carved from the forest.
Shooting the rodeo was an amazingly exhilarating experience and something I’d love to do again. My one mistake was to go on Saturday evening. The rodeo is held across two days; if I'd gone on Friday I would have been back on Saturday night to shoot again.
I’ve made a small book featuring some of my favourite shoots including the ones you see here.
My introduction to the book:
Finding Hayesville, North Carolina (pop. 311), on the map is not easy. If you do, look to the northeast and the green of the Nantahala National Forest. It’s early evening you are travelling along the Tusquittee Creek Road, heading deeper into the forest. Before the sun goes down, you can glimpse the beautiful Hiwassee River on your left. Sections of the river have local names reminiscent of earlier times, Schoolhouse branch, Mull Cove and just ahead is Greasy Creek. Go through Tusquittee, take the bridge on the left over the river and the Cutworms Corral will be in sight. If you’re lucky, and it's rodeo time, a cowboy will be at the gate to welcome you.
This literal dot on the map is where I find myself. It’s May 2017, and this is my first rodeo. We park our rental - almost the only vehicle that isn’t either a truck or an SUV - in the field next to the corral. I’m feeling just a little out of my comfort zone.
The show starts as it always does here with the singing of the National Anthem and a heartfelt thank you to the members of the military in the crowd. From then to the end of the night I am strangely in my element.
Steer wrestling, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding hadn’t played much of a part in my experience growing up in South London. Apart from TV, I don’t think I’d even seen a bull until I was out of my teenage years, so the prospect of riding one seems crazy to me. To be fair, it soon became apparent it seems pretty crazy to most of the crowd. But ride them they did - even if, in most cases, it wasn’t for very long.
Much of the time I don’t have a clue what was going on. But the imagery is wonderful. I feel as though I’ve found a seam of gold in these North Carolina hills and I just can't stop digging. This is the second day of a two-day meet, and I'm kicking myself for not being there on day one.
I take my hat off to the brave women and men who take part; they put on an amazing show. This certainly won't be my only visit to a rodeo, and it’s unlikely to be the last time I navigate the Tusquittee Creek Road.