Mattia Balsamini recently shot “The West Family,” a personal project about the people of the Pordenone Rodeo, a hoedown complete with cowboy hats, mechanical bull rides and square dances in his hometown of Pordenone, Italy. Yes, you read that right—it’s a rodeo In Italy, and it’s as odd as it sounds.
Mattia first became interested in documenting unusual events in his hometown out of curiosity, and to break away of shooting commissioned work. He said he shoots one or two of these short term personal projects each year, since they help him to refocus and fall in love with photography all over again.
I usually get involved by trying to get the full experience, live it as an active user instead of a spectator. Although, depending on the situation I can take sides. In this case with The West Family I think my point of view is clearly ironic, I decided to look into a culture that doesn’t belong to us and seems slightly misinterpreted by those who embrace it. Despite this, I think everybody should do whatever they want with their hobbies and passions, so my critical view doesn’t mean to be judgmental.
To get access to the event, Mattia wrote a letter to the organizers asking for a press pass and explaining why he was interested in documenting it. They were very accommodating, and Mattia ended up photographing the entirety of the three-day event. The most difficult thing for him to overcome was getting the rodeo-goers to get used to him, since he was an outsider (even though he did sport a cowboy hat).
In this case since I needed portable strobes to selectively illuminate my subjects, I was definitely visible and had a little bit of a hard time blending in. The only thing that helped was trying to be discrete and spend time there. The first day was not very prolific, starting from the second day the attendees were used to my presence and I also got a grip on how to have fun with them.
Mattia says since he released the project and corresponding book, he’s gotten some interesting feedback from American friends who had no idea there was a country scene in Italy. He’s not going to be shooting any more country fairs for the project, but “The West Family” is part of a larger series about events that pass through the town of Pordenone.
I like to think I learn something new every time I put myself in a situation I would have never gone into without a camera. Attending the event informed me about the existence of this community and gave the chance to learn more about it—for me that is enough for now.