Athletes from around the country and spectators from all over the metro area converged on Sunday June 17, at the Portland Expo Center, for a historic first annual 8 Seconds Juneteenth Rodeo. This sold-out event was organized by Portland-based photographer Ivan McClellan, who has been documenting Black cowboy culture across North America for the better part of the last decade.
Attendees arrived throughout the sunny afternoon fitted for the occasion–whether a Stetson or a New Era rested on their head. Everyone dressed up to show out for the rodeo.
Cattle-roping lessons, custom apparel embroidery, and a mechanical bull were among the most popular attractions in the concourse, where friends and families buzzed with excitement. Stepping from the bright concourse into the dimmer purple and yellow glow of the rodeo arena, faces lit up with curiosity and awe as they caught sight of riders warming up horses on a knee-high dirt plane encircled with ranch fencing and the scent of earth and manure in the air. On the other end of the arena, riders, ropers, bullfighters, and support teams made up of friends and family prepared for their roles in the day’s events.
Aaron Baxter, a bull rider from Chicago, assessed the bulls in their pen. He explained that the group of animals was “hot,” or particularly rowdy, as they have been on a rodeo circuit for the last month or so. Regarding the risks, Baxter said he’s always been seeking out the rough rides. At five years old, out for a ride with his mom, the pony he was mounted on got spooked. Baxter said he just knew to grab and hold on, and he’s been doing that ever since. “There’s something I love about when an animal loses its mind,” he mused, withdrawing his hand from the bull and standing tall to survey the lot. Baxter flew back the morning after the event to ride in a show in Illinois the next day.
In a recent interview with the Skanner, McClellan said his work in both his ongoing photography and bringing this event to life was aimed at expanding the vision and idea of Black American culture—reclaiming the heritage of Black cowboys and western sport, as well as to bring the rodeo experience to Portland youth.