The New Black West is a photo series that gives viewers a front-row seat to the fascinating and rich history of Black cowboys and rodeos. The colorful and unique photos in the collection give viewers a fresh look at a world that many Americans have come to romanticize and admire.
Gabriela Hasbun, a photographer from the Bay Area, has always been interested in the historical meanings of the American archetypal cowboy and the ideas of independence, strength, and determination that their pictures continue to evoke. But Hasbun noticed that Black American cowboys weren’t always shown or included in these images, even though they were a big part of the culture and left a big mark on it.
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“The late historian William Loren Katz said in his book The Black West that people of African descent “rode every wilderness trail as scouts and pathfinders, slave runaways and fur trappers, missionaries and soldiers, schoolmarms and business owners, lawmen and members of Native American nations.” More than 8,000 Black cowboys rode in western cattle drives in the late 1860s, but most of their stories have never been told. Hasbun tells PetaPixel.
“It’s an honor to introduce in this book the men and women who carry on their work.”
In her new book, The New Black West: Photographs from America’s Only Touring Black Rodeo, Hasbun tried to show how important these symbols of the American West are through her photographs.
The people she photographed at The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in San Francisco, California, told her stories and posed for pictures for the book.
“Since I’ve been going to the rodeo for a long time, I thought it would be a good idea to make this collection of photos into a book to help share the cowboys’ story in a more complete way. Most of all, I wanted to help people understand how important it was for African Americans to help the West grow. Hasbun says.
The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is the only African American rodeo that travels around the United States. Hasbun captures a show-stopping, colorful display of skill and precision from modern cowboys and cowgirls by being ready and paying attention to her surroundings.
Hasbun’s pictures pay homage to the old American west while also having a neo-western and Afrofuturistic feel to them. Her pictures show how family-like the event was.
“This is one of the friendliest and most welcoming places I have ever taken pictures of. That’s really what kept me coming back year after year to take pictures of the rodeo and the people who took part in it. When I see them, I feel like I’m with family, and that’s how they treat each other. They have a huge rodeo family.” Hasbun tells PetaPixel.
The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is known as “One of the Greatest Shows on Dirt.” Hasbun’s visually striking photos not only capture this by showing dust clouds, acrobatics, and the earthy tones of the atmosphere, but they also show the style, fashion, and skill of the cowboys and cowgirls.
The captured moments and details tell a story of strong willpower, real grit, and loving families and relationships.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is how important it is to have friends. So many cowboys say that their rodeo team is like their family and that they come back every year to see their friends and family. More importantly, they continue to share the traditions that their elders taught them and the important black history that is rarely taught in schools and history books.
Image credits: Gabriela Hasbun