After moving from Tokyo to Australia, photographer Cathy Marshall felt uninspired. She loved the Asian country’s street style and buzzing streets, but Melbourne didn’t feel quite as exciting. Thankfully for her, she came across the rather unknown rodeo scene when attending a friend’s wedding in New Zealand, and after a couple of years, she’s learnt to crack a whip and taken jello shots with cowboys and cowgirls, in addition to meeting stylish, confident, fun and very welcoming people. Today, we speak with her about her series, Antipodean Rodeo, as well as discovering the events unexpectedly, the people she’s met and a few anecdotes.
Hey Cathy, before we discuss the project, I’d like to know a bit more about yourself. What led you to become a photographer?
During high school, I spent a lot of time in the darkroom, and this was when I fell in love with photography. Later on, I lived in Japan for a few years, where I rediscovered the darkroom process in my kitchen. I was excited about photography again because there was so much to take in and I was really stimulated in Tokyo. I was going to a lot of exhibitions and was influenced by Muge and Daido Moriyama, which led to shooting street photography on black and white film on a Ricoh GR1.
When I left Tokyo, I moved to Melbourne and ended up managing a gallery full-time. I was struggling to find a voice and finding it difficult to work out my own place within photography at this point, as I wasn’t inspired by the streets in Melbourne like I had been in Japan. I’d always been interested in fashion, so it felt like an obvious choice in terms of where to go next. At this point, I quit my job to work part-time so I had time to focus and build on my own practice.
From personal work to fashion editorials and documentary, you experiment with many genres. Do you feel more comfortable in any particular one? Or do you like to keep your practice as open as possible?
My favourite way to work at the moment is one-on-one with someone. Casting is an important part of building energy between the camera and a subject and I get the best connection from someone when it’s just the two of us. I wouldn’t say I’m more comfortable in either genre, I just like to shoot whatever idea I have at a particular time.
Let’s focus on your latest series, Antipodean Rodeo. When and how did you get familiar with rodeos? And what first sparked your interest in documenting the people attending these events?
In 2016, I was back in New Zealand for a friend’s wedding. I drove past a rodeo in the countryside, which surprised me as I’d always associated rodeos with America. I think it was two dollars to get through the gate, so I went in to check it out. I was drawn to the outfits and the strength of character of the people who were there. It was in the middle of nowhere but people had such strong style and it felt very uninhibited. When I got back to Melbourne, I did some research and realised rodeos happen all over Australia too.
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You didn’t shoot the sports event but the people attending it. What were you looking to achieve by portraying the people and not the sports?
After I took the first (unplanned) photos in New Zealand, the project already had direction. It wasn’t the sports event which interested me, so that was never going to be part of my story. The people had a different style and energy to the people I generally encounter every day, and that was what I came back for. I wanted to portray an earnest and easygoing community and style without ego.
You say you were “taken aback by how welcoming the community was and how open people were to have their photo taken.” Could you tell us how you approach your subjects, and how different rodeo attendants were from other subjects you might have focused on in previous projects?
People at the rodeos often came up to me asking to have their photo taken. I’m not sure where they thought the photos would end up and I was never asked. In the past, I’ve shot street style fashion and people were so cautious about having their photo taken. They wanted to know where the photos would be published and people often said no. In terms of approaching subjects, I usually just ask – ask and you shall receive at the rodeo!
Taking jello shots with cowboys, learning to crack a whip… Could you t ell us a bit about your experience throughout this two years documenting rodeos and the people attending them? Any remarkable anecdote for our readers?
I went to most of the rodeos with a friend of mine, Robyn. At the ones we camped at, we’d drink wine from the bottle to get into the spirit of things while we set up our tent. I’d walk around for hours – from the arena to the ride-on bulls, to the food stalls, to the campsite, to the bar. I was always keeping an eye out for people who struck a chord with me, for whatever reason. Before each rodeo starts in Victoria, the Australian national anthem plays out over speakers above the arena. People stand up from their deck chairs and sing along, and cowboys and cowgirls ride past on horses with flags. After the competition finishes, champions mingle with the crowd, drinking beer and eating sausages in bread with onions.
Sometimes there’s a band playing country music and people dance around drunk, singing – we danced along. I was wandering around solo when a girl offered me the jello shot. She was offering them liberally to people she’d just met and inviting everyone to come and hang out at her tent together. I was taught how to crack a whip twice. Once by a cowboy in a field and another by some young boys we camped next to, who left us a very sweet goodbye note!
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You documented these events for two years. When did you decide that the series was complete? Or is it still ongoing?
The documentary projects which I’ve produced in the past have often happened in a relatively short period of time, as they’ve been photographed overseas. As this project lacked time constraints, I was able to return and fill in the gaps that existed within the story. I also just really enjoyed the experience and wanted to keep going back. Eventually the gaps had been filled, so the series was finished.
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