"Heavy trucks, many of which were hauling horse trailers, filled the rodeo grounds. The air was thick with adrenaline, dust, sweat and loud music. Everywhere I looked, I could see big animals, blue jeans and wide-brimmed cowboy hats. On top of that, there was a layer of glitter, sparkle, drag queens and dance music hits. This was my first gay rodeo.
As much as I watched and took pictures, I talked with everyone: the competitors, the spectators and the arena crew. I was an outsider from Finland but I felt welcome. I wanted to know more about this rodeo circuit and these people – “the rodeo family,” as I soon learned. Everyone had a story to tell and most were willing to share theirs with me. I have been going back ever since.” – Karoliina Paatos
The American West has been the home of many countercultures. Gay rodeo is one of them. Still marginal and little known even among the gay community it contradicts the prevailing idea of the cowboy, which does not include different roles or sexual identities. It was born out of discrimination in the 1970’s but become a chosen family for many who do not feel at home in regular rodeos and whose families still do not accept their sexual identities. The carnivalistic drag culture is essential part of the gay rodeo and everyone is allowed to take part in any sport regardless their gender.
Freelance photographer Karoliina Paatos has photographed cowboy culture in the western parts of the United States since 2010. Heroes was shot during eight years from 2011 until 2019 in and around the International Gay Rodeo Association’s rodeos in the US.
Karoliina Paatos studies in Aalto University's MA degree program in photography. She graduated in photography from the Lahti University of Applied Sciences (Finland) in 2006. She works for the largest newspapers and magazines in Finland. Besides journalistic work, she works actively on her own projects, and she has presented them in several exhibitions. Paatos’ previous large series, Macho Looks was a collaboration with Johanna Kannasmaa, and dealt with macho culture in the Balkans. The American Cowboy is Paatos’ first solo exhibition.
Edition of 1000.
Size: 38 x 26 cm, 44 pages
Publisher: The Angry Bat, 2021