Rodeo has been a part of Montana’s culture since the first cowboys arrived over 150 years ago. Inspired by the gritty nostalgia of this western tradition, Whitefish, Mont.-based documentary photographer Kyle Stansbury spent time over the last two years documenting the rich cultural heritage of the sport for a self-assigned project. The raw and authentic nature of rodeo – one of the most dangerous sports in the world – appealed to Kyle’s photographic storytelling.
The Brash Rodeo in Columbia Falls – western Montana’s longest-running series rodeo – is a little place where big dreams get put to the test. As spectators fill the stands in anticipation, contestants prepare for the thrilling and dangerous ride ahead. Week after week, brave and straight-faced cowboys and girls saddle up to take on fear, injury, and hopefully a little taste of glory.
The project comes from a desire to capture a way of life and culture that is as threatened by modern society as much as any other.
Photographing a rodeo is an experience unlike any other. Nothing says down and dirty quite like being two feet away from a 1000lb bull, shifting and slamming in the chute as you are shoulder to shoulder with 15 adrenaline-dripping cowboys. Working his way onto the crowded and hazardous chute deck is not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s the element of danger and unpredictability that makes the project all the more thrilling.
Often hot, windy, muddy, loud, crowded, hectic, dirty, awesome.
Imagine a crowded dance floor but with a really angry bull close to you.
Kyle typically shot for several hours at a time, over the course of six to eight visits, in the last two years. While each night is different and some are better than others, he really enjoyed the experience of blending into the electrifying environment and walking away with some incredibly powerful images. In order to maintain the integrity of the project, Kyle prefers not to edit his work in any way that couldn’t be done in a darkroom.
My favorite part is blending into such a scene and walking away with some great work.
Born in Saudi Arabia, Kyle is a third-generation photographer now living in northwest Montana. His fascination with photography started when he was a young boy. At the age of 14, his high school photography teacher took him under her wing and he quickly developed a passion for the craft. As a freelance documentary photographer, Kyle strives to capture authentic moments that vividly depict the wondrous beauty of life.
At a core I want my work to portray how wild and messy and simple and perfect this life can be.
See more of Kyle’s photos on his Instagram.
See more of our photographers’ projects on our Unpublished page.