Jun 5, 2024 - News

Sarah Bird's "Juneteenth Rodeo"

A photo of a person on a horse barrel racing.

A rodeo moment photographed by Sarah Bird. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Bird via University of Texas Press

In the depths of the pandemic, determined to clean her house with a Marie Kondo drive, Sarah Bird, celebrated Austin comic novelist, reached under her bed and rediscovered a dusty cache of rodeo photos she had shot long ago.

Why it matters: Those photos, snapped by Bird as a University of Texas photojournalism graduate student in the 1970s, documenting in gorgeous composition and loving frankness the Black rodeo circuit, have now been published by UT Press as "Juneteenth Rodeo."

  • The new book carries Bird's distinctive voice, as she describes traveling around Texas in a falling apart Chevy Vega.

What's happening: Bird will give a talk at noon Wednesday at the Bullock Museum; at 7pm Thursday she'll discuss the book with journalist Michael Hurd at the Austin Central Library; and on June 27 she'll present her work at the Neill-Cochran House Museum.

  • All those events are free and open to the public.
  • Bird's book "is a joyous and beautiful account of a neglected history," the Harvard historian Annette Gordon-Reed — whose own memoir is titled "On Juneteenth" — has said.

We talked with Bird, 74, about the origins of the book and why it was so important to her that it get published.

A photo of a man on a bull as onlookers watch in the background.
Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Bird via UT Press

The book is such a departure from your usual work.

"I know, it's like a whole other person created it! It so thoroughly broke my heart that I couldn't get it published" in the late 1970s, "and so I packed up my photo aspirations and just moved on. But as it turned out, being a writer suited my temperament more. Photography is a very extroverted profession. That's not my natural temperament. I've enjoyed being alone in a room all those years."

Why do you think magazines passed on the work at the time?

"What I heard was, 'There's no audience, no market, no interest.'"

You wrote that you felt a "sacred duty" to get this work published. What did you mean?

"When I dug out these rodeo photos, I thought, 'Oh, babe, you gotta get these out before you die.' My notes didn't survive the number of times my garage flooded, but I posted on social media the images and have been able to identify over half of them. It's important to me the figures are identified, so their descendants and the subjects themselves can get the credit they deserve."

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