“Human life is so eclectic,” says photographer Sophie Green. “There are so many different facets of life, and people to be celebrated. I make photography to connect and communicate. I think that photography can have a huge influence on people; it’s a universal language than can reach everybody.”
Previous projects have seen Sophie train her lens at topics as varied as banger racing to Peckham’s afro hair salons, and her latest work retains that deep and direct interest in the multiplicity of the human experience, which makes her photography so captivating.
Shot for Modern Weekly magazine, and as the title suggests, Cowboy Country is a visual examination of cowboys and girls doing their thing at various equestrian events. There are stetsons, spurs, chaps, and chains: it is a vision of pure Americana on horseback. Except we’re not in Arkansas. This is England.
Cast your mind back a few weeks and you might remember Maisie Marshall’s photos of Britain’s burgeoning rodeo scene. In these claustrophobic pre-Brexit days, it seems that more and more of us are looking toward the dusty vastness of the great American west for some sort of release. From the Cornish coast to the nether-reaches of Northumberland, you’ll find active cowboy communities, each practicing an Anglicised version of what’s known as western riding, a centuries old American tradition that has its roots in the arrival of Spanish conquistador’s back in the 16th century.
The riders who flock to these events are, in Sophie’s words, “opting for a livelier alternative to conventional English riding”. She notes that “you can perform really exciting tricks where the rider must show the horse doing emergency stops from the pace of a gallop and 360 degree turns on loop. The crowds are very energetic, riders thrive off the atmosphere, it’s really fun – riders describe the sport as a huge adrenaline fix.”
For the shoot, Sophie worked alongside the journalist Ellie Harrison and stylist Adam Winder. The riders were draped in Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior and Givenchy. Each of those esteemed fashion houses had produced items inspired by the traditional clothing one would expect to see at a western event.
This haute drapery chimes with what Sophie herself sees as one of the most important, and exciting, aspects of the British western scene: the sheer pageantry of it all. “Riders love to dress up and win marks for good presentation at competitions – the aesthetics of western riding are really important and quite flamboyant too. Riders ask designers to make their outfits especially for competition,” Sophie tells It’s Nice That.
“There are staples in western fashion – spurs, fringed jackets, high-waisted jeans, gem encrusted belts -but from season to season the desirable colours, patterns and styles morph.I loved the showmanship of it all – I found the whole idea very fun and charming.”
Her photos have a similar effect on the viewer. Imbued with an intriguing sense of a particularly mundane sort of exoticism, they strike It’s Nice That as an attempt to sensitively portray a close-knit community that it’d be all too easy to find odd, uncomfortable, or straight up absurd.
Just don’t expect them to bellow a “YEE-HAW”. It doesn’t happen. “That,” Sophie admits, “was just my fantasy.”
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