‘Photographs from the Gay Rodeo’ showing at UI

University of Idaho library hosts photo exhibit; Blake Little chronicles gay rodeo in Western history



Blake Little’s photographs, including “Bareback Bronc Riding,” pictured above, are being shown in the exhibit at the University of Idaho library through April 30. Little’s black and white portraits feature LGBTQ riders on the rodeo circuit.

ANNA YOUNG, Evergreen reporter

With an opening reception Tuesday evening, Seattle-born photographer Blake Little’s “Photographs from the Gay Rodeo” exhibit kicked off at the University of Idaho Library, to be continued through April 30.

The rodeo is a series of events across the country headed by the International Gay Rodeo Association. The events, according to the association’s website, are intended to “[promote], in a positive way, the LGBTQ country western lifestyle” and “[support] amateur sportsmanship,” among other related goals.

Rebecca Scofield, University of Idaho assistant professor of 20th century American history, presented on the topic in January, which was part of the reason why the Latah County Historical Society chose to feature the exhibit.

Dulce Kersting-Lark, Latah County Historical Society executive director, said the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, where the exhibit was originally curated, had a short-notice break in the exhibit’s touring schedule. Her own research as a historian dealt with the American West, and she said the ties with Scofield aided in her choice to rent the exhibit.

“Rodeo is a performance in Western expansion,” Kersting-Lark said. “This exhibit adds nuance to … perceived stereotypes.”

Little’s work consists of 41 photos depicting gay rodeos, its participants and the culture around the events, according to the UI Library website.

The series covers rodeos, primarily black and white portraiture, between 1988 and 1992.

Ashlyn Velte, head of special collections for the library, said Kersting-Lark approached her in November about hosting the collection. She said the collaboration achieves university goals of community outreach and diversifying what visitors learn about Western history.

“It’s a really, really beautiful example of photography … they document the experiences of people,” she said. “They’re really moving pieces.”

Velte said the photographs also engage visitors by giving them the experience of a national exhibit on a local level. Because the library’s collecting area often includes American West topics like mining, agriculture and environmental history, Little’s work fits in.

She said the exhibit asks questions about identity and perceptions, as well as prompting the viewer to question their own expectations about rodeo and the West.

“It documents a portion of Western culture which, historically, has not been talked about,” Velte said.

Kersting-Lark said the exhibit’s closing reception will feature Scofield and her research. There will also be a free showing of the documentary “Queens and Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo” at 7 p.m. March 6 at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre.