Adam Hester’s Rodeo Images Exude the “Magical Feeling” of Jackson Hole

Aug 27, 2019
Photographer Spotlight

Visit the Jackson Hole Rodeo's website, and you’ll be inundated by imagery that perfectly encapsulates the venue’s slogan: Where the West is Still Wild!

This ain't no mechanical bull my friends

Photographer and filmmaker Adam Hester recently traveled to the valley of Jackson Hole, a sanctuary for active vacationers nestled in between the Teton Mountain and Gros Ventre Ranges of western Wyoming. Peruse the online visitor’s guide, and you’ll find myriad activities, including whitewater rafting, wildlife safaris, and, of course, wild west rodeos.

Central casting cowboy

I photographed one other rodeo in California but was hesitant to get as close as I did in Jackson Hole. After reviewing images from the first rodeo I shot, I knew that next time I had to get much better access to get something interesting. I reached out to the rodeo organizers a few weeks before via email, and they were happy to give me backstage access. 

Adam, a Seattle native who currently plies his trade in the Bay Area, used this personal project to expand his portfolio and expose himself to an authentic rodeo experience. What makes the rodeo different from other Jackson Hole haunts is that it feels like a place for communal gatherings as opposed to a point of interest on a tourist’s itinerary.

Jackson Hole is a vacation mountain town which attracts many types of people, but a lot are pretty well off. The rodeo feels like the ‘Locals Only’ scene. It has been a part of this country’s history for a long time and continues to thrive here!

Taken right after the PA announcer said that the beer was free for the rest of the night

The rodeo features numerous competitions, such as bareback riding and calf roping, and has helped define Jackson Hole’s culture for more than a century. The riders compete rain or shine (they are cowboys and cowgirls, after all), which could’ve put a wrench in Adam’s shoot. Fortunately, the Seattle-born storyteller didn’t run into any stereotypically Pacific Northwest weather. I mean, just look at this sky ...

Dusk in Jackson Hole

The deep blue of dusk is a light I’m always trying to work into my overall portfolio. Jackson Hole has a magical feeling.

Many of Adam’s images feature local young adults and children in their element. Their demeanor made an impression on Adam and shaped the way he approached this shoot.

[They were] one of the first things I noticed. Their pride and self-confidence seemed really high compared to others kids their age. It was almost as if they were well aware that they are in a rare group for their age.

Rodeo life begins at a young age

I was hoping to portray their confidence and pride in my photographs.

In his element

The rodeo is a joyous, celebratory tradition that is lovingly kept alive by the people who call this mountain town home. It is often said that if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life. The passion that the people of Jackson Hole have for one of their most cherished institutions was palpable to Adam.

Everyone performing in the rodeo just seemed to be having the greatest time. It was work for them, but work they obviously loved for many reasons.

Check out more of Adam's work at adamhester.com.

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