Lonesome Doves

  Photographer Ilone Szwarc's portraits of rodeo girls illuminate a different aspect of femininity.          

This story appears in the May 2014 issue of National Geographic magazine.

My introduction to rodeo culture happened during high school, when I was an exchange student from Poland in Canadian, Texas, a small town on the Texas panhandle. I remembered rodeo as something performed by adults and mostly by men. During one of my recent visits, I realized that more young girls are participating in rodeos and even competing professionally.

This body of work builds on my previous project, a series of portraits of American girls who collect dolls customized to look like their owners. I was interested in rodeo girls because they seem to have a fundamentally different idea about their femininity than the girls I’d photographed previously. Rodeo girls engage in activities traditionally reserved for men. They possess great physical strength and demonstrate their dominance over animals.

I traveled to competitions in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, photographing girls both ringside and on family ranches. Most of them live in remote areas. I found their spiritual and emotional connection with their horses very beautiful. They loved the feeling of being one with the animal.