A brand new photo exhibit sheds light on the joy and passion of the Gay Rodeo at The James Museum in St. Petersburg. The tenacity and commitment required to excel and participate in the spectacle is displayed in a series of photos captured by photographer Blake Little.
Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo is a traveling exhibition from ExhibitsUSA and Mid-America Arts Alliance. In total, the exhibit features 41 black-and-white images. Blake Little blends classic portraiture and sport photography to spotlight this gay tradition of the American West.
Developed at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, Indiana, the exhibit explores the diverse and complex nature of individual and community identity in Western rural culture. Taken between 1988 and 1992 at events from Oklahoma to California, the collected body of images combines the action of riding, roping and chute dogging with intimate views into the lives of rodeo participants, examining themes of competition and community and inviting an expansive redefinition of cowboy identities.
“We are proud to host this exhibition celebrating diversity in the West,” said Emily Kapes, Curator at The James Museum. “With so many different perspectives within the Western experience, we see this exhibition as an opportunity to feature the gay community, create dialogue, and inform museum visitors on these little-known competitions. The James Museum strives to be a welcoming and inspiring space for all and to amplify voices that are not often at the forefront of popular culture and mainstream western art.”
Inside the exhibit visitors will also be able to view a collection of truly remarkable belt buckles, a gorgeous rainbow wall, and a short film about the Gay Rodeo.
Blake Little became more than an observer. After getting hooked on going to rodeos, he wanted to become a part of the action. He learned to ride a steer, then a bull and slowly began to master the technique. In 1990 he was named Bull Riding Champion of the Year at the International Gay Rodeo Association. He says of the experience, “The sport, camaraderie, and atmosphere of this first rodeo experience transformed me. I was completely drawn to it and I had to be a part of it. I wanted to be a cowboy.”
Speaking about Photographs from the Gay Rodeo, Little sums up how his personal experience informs the images. “These photographs represent an amazing, magical time in my life. Back then, I questioned if I was a ‘real’ cowboy because in the back of my mind I always felt like an observer—and photography was my first passion. But my unique situation allowed me to document the growing sport of gay rodeo from the inside along with the thrills and personal challenges of fulfilling my cowboy dreams.”
The James Museum is located at 150 Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg next to Datz.