Penultimate Performance at the 87th Annual Tucson Rodeo

Jet Price scores 77 points on a horse appropriately named Mucho Motion

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I woke up this morning fully clothed, eyes sticky with dust. The fifth performance won’t begin until this afternoon and I’d hoped that maybe I would be able to sleep through most of the morning. I’m excited, though, and I’ve already begun my equipment check – swabbing lenses with optical cleaning wipes, blowing dust out of the rear elements, charging batteries, and formatting memory cards.

Yesterday was hard on the performers and there were a lot of turn-outs (rodeo lingo for no-shows). Compared to last weekend, the timed events weren’t enough to keep most of the guys in the running, and that disappointment hung in the air for a long time while the crowd cheered through the settling dust. Up in the stands, most of them haven’t been following the aggregate, so when a mud-dogger broke ten seconds people went nuts.

It’s nice to see a good run, but those of us covering the event already knew that most of these boys were out of the running before the sun even came up yesterday morning.

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It’s going to be an interesting day. So far as I’m aware, there’s going to be a brief memorial for legendary rodeo photographer Louise Serpa, who passed away in January at the age of 86. She’s often lauded as the “Ansel Adams of rodeo photography.” Her accomplishments include being the first Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association-sanctioned woman to work the arena as a photographer and, as it turns out, the first woman inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

This would have been her fiftieth year at the Tucson Rodeo. The last couple of years were difficult for her, but as long as she drew breath, she was in her usual seat, located just behind the “photo pit,” camera in hand. We’re all going to miss her and the decision was made to keep her seat open. Louise’s daughter, Mia Larocque, has been at the rodeo photographing with me for the past three years; her advice, and the quick wit of her mother, have left an indelible mark on my life as a photographer.

I’m not entirely sure what to expect in the arena today. We’re anticipating a sold-out crowd of eleven-thousand, which would keep in lock-step with this years’ record-breaking attendance. I know which riders I’ll be keeping my eyes on, and we’ll see who makes it to tomorrow – check back later for today’s rundown.

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And, since I couldn’t possibly say it better myself, I’ll leave you with some of Louise Serpa’s words, published in “Rodeo,” an Aperture publication of her photographs.

“Rodeo is fueled by adrenaline; it is geared by athletic ability and heart. The odds of winning are not high, and the pay is the lowest of any sport. Constant traveling, lack of sleep, and physical soreness make some men burn out early…Rodeo is the great equalizer – there’s no room for braggarts, bullies, or the fainthearted. No guts, no glory.”

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