When we think of cowboys and rodeos we, more often than not, think of the United States. However for fans of the Calgary Stampede, otherwise known as “The Great Outdoor Show in the World”, the rodeo represents a core part of Canadian identity; which is wholly different to the USA’s.
London-based photographer Sam Khoury photographed the ten-day event last year. Documenting her experience at the rodeo which attracts over one million visitors per year, Sam is presenting her photography series in a new immersive exhibition at The Old Dairy in London. Showing for one day only, this Saturday 16 March, the exhibition is also titled The Greatest Outdoor Show in the World, and captures the personality of the event through 22 large-scale prints and a soundscape.
“I ended up in Calgary with my old flatmate Jess because her mum and stepdad went the previous year and loved it so much, they asked if we wanted to tag along the following summer,” Sam tells It’s Nice That. On first impressions, Sam thought Calgary was “a very bizarre place to have a rodeo as its full of skyscrapers… it appeared to me to be somewhat corporate. It’s not somewhere that immediately exudes Western culture from its exterior,“ says Sam.
Despite the unlikely setting, over time, Sam gathered that “the Stampede is basically a week where no one in the city works. It’s the only time in the year where the general public living in Calgary get booted up and locate their 300 dollar cowboy hats from their dusty cupboards.” In her photographs, the sense of collective enthusiasm is prevalent. As viewers, we can detect a sea of beige cowboy hats, attentive stares, dark sunglasses shading eyes from the hot sun; all watching the bucking broncos dethroning their riders.
Historically, the Calgary Stampede was a time when “corporate businesses would use the event to entertain clients and get really drunk. I think that still happens”, says Sam, “but not in the same way as it once did”. She goes on to say: “Someone described it to me as somewhat Wolf of Wall Street.” She recalls the “inundation of food stalls, smells of BBQ, alcohol tents, theme park rides and the constant noise from the bustling crowd.” Poignantly, Sam likens the event to an “Americanised Thorpe Park” where patriotic Canadian’s use the Calgary Stampede as a “one-week moral booster in a concrete jungle that unfortunately focuses on the visitor’s consumption and money.”
Regardless of the event’s capitalisation, however, Sam’s lense hones in on the joy of the crowds. Her photos capture the spectacle’s ability to bring the people of Calgary together, presenting a glimpse into Canadian culture that sees its people adorn their cowboy dress without question. Finally, Sam notes how the rodeo pulled in all kinds of different people. From a mix of tourists to Americans and Canadians, she concludes “Canadian’s are very proud to be Canadian. They are more patriotic than I had imagined.”
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