Andy DeLisle ’98 was overwhelmed when he went to his first rodeo in 2006. “I was like a kid in a candy store,” he says. “I couldn’t work fast enough to get all the photos I saw.”
But what appealed to DeLisle wasn’t the rodeo competition itself. It was the variety of people and events that came together in a celebration of Western culture. “The culture just totally fascinated me,” he says. DeLisle has since gone on to document the culture and people at several rodeos.
Readers of NC State magazine will get a taste of that culture in the upcoming spring issue. DeLisle’s photos are featured – along with an interview with Richard Slatta, an NC State history professor and expert on cowboy culture – in a visual journey into the world of rodeo queens. We talked recently with DeLisle about rodeos and rodeo queens:
What drew you to photograph rodeo queens? I was looking for something I really hadn’t explored before. They are so hard working. The rodeo queen for [the rodeo in Prescott] is going to school in Tucson, about a three-hour drive away. But she is the face of the rodeo for the year, so she has to be there for any promotional event.
Are rodeo queens simply a Western version of beauty pageant queens? There is a beauty pageant part of it, a modeling part of it. But they also have to have general rodeo knowledge, and know the history of the rodeo …. These girls really have to know how to ride a horse and know what they’re doing. If they don’t, they’re going to get hurt.
What makes a good rodeo queen? They have to be determined. It’s such a huge amount of work. They are some of the friendliest people. There’s just such a sense of community that is really wonderful to experience.
Are you planning to photograph more rodeos? Definitely. I’m looking forward to whatever happens next. It’s kind of an ongoing thing for me. Rodeo queens were just one part of that.