Acosia Red Elk (L)


This print is a 13” x 20” image on a 20” x 24” paper. It is signed and titled on the front border and back of the print.

In 1998 I was asked to photograph an essay on professional rodeo for National Geographic. I recall being a bit hesitant in taking on that assignment. Am I just going back to the same well, I thought, considering the previous decade I’d spent, often doing stories on something about the American West and the cowboy? Thinking I needed to change focus of subject matter, I’d purposely gone off in another direction for the magazine in 1981 by going to Peru where I experienced a whole new vivid palette and saw pictures everywhere. Would doing a story now on pro rodeo offer the same visual inspiration? I decided although I’d done a lot of work on the West, I’d never concentrated on rodeo. And I was to find out fairly soon that what is true with so many stories I’ve done, no matter the country, the place, the event or the people, the best pictures are often to be found around the edges.

That’s where I saw Acosia Red Elk, mounted on her wonderfully decorated horse at the annual Pendleton, Oregon Round-Up rodeo. Both she and her horse are draped in beautifully beaded buckskins and seen behind her are some of the 300 teepees making up the Native American tribal village that annually resides behind the rodeo grandstands. Acosia Red Elk was competing in the annual American Indian Beauty Contest and she would soon take part in a parade of contestants. What gives this picture its center of interest is the simple gesture of Acosia looking slightly back over her shoulder, profiling her face against the darkly threatening sky, the feathers of her headdress almost birdlike in shape. But it’s the gesture that arrests our attention and becomes the moment of importance. I have no idea who won that beauty contest but I’ve always been grateful for being present to witness this scene and this moment.

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