Ivan McClellan’s celebratory photography tells the stories of black cowboys in America

Six years ago, Ivan McClellan was invited to a black rodeo by a filmmaker named Charles Perry. It was a transformative moment for Ivan, having watched thousands of black men and women ride horses, don boots and cowboy hats for the very first time. “I didn’t know anything about black cowboys back then,” he told Creative Boom.

Ivan grew up in Kansas City in a mix of urban and rural settings; he was picking berries and catching wild flies in the back garden – a five-acre field – while dodging police and gangs out front. At 17, Ivan left Kansas City to work as an actor and designer before discovering photography. His entry into the medium goes back a decade, and he hasn’t looked back since. And what started as studying landscapes to hone his “technical skills” quickly turned into street photography. “I learned how to interact with strangers and get quality shots in any environment,” he explains.



© Ivan McClellan

© Ivan McClellan



© Ivan McClellan

After visiting the black rodeo with Charles, Ivan began his documentary practice focusing on black cowboys in America. It is a subject and an event that he holds closely; when he attended, he met people who lived a few blocks from his childhood home in Kansas City.

“This knowledge of black cowboys in my hometown transformed my perception of a home away from a place of poverty and violence into a place of independence and courage,” he says. “I was determined to share what I had found and let everyone know that black cowboys exist now, today, in America.” Ivan has now attended dozens of rodeos and visited cowboys on their ranches and farms; he will “realistically” shoot rodeos well into his 70s, he admits.

© Ivan McClellan



© Ivan McClellan

© Ivan McClellan



© Ivan McClellan

Ivan combines staged and balanced portraits throughout the project with more candid, fluid and dynamic shots of people mid-stream as they gallop through the sand. One of them is Kortnee Solomon, an 11-year-old cowgirl he had met on his ranch in Hampstead, Texas. “There was a storm coming and she told me it would start raining in six minutes,” says Ivan.

“I rushed to take a picture and asked her to ride her horse right next to me as I sat on the ground. I took her on her white horse, with her braids blowing in the wind and an expression simple but focused on her This is one of my favorite photos because it perfectly captures her essence as a western athlete.”

© Ivan McClellan



© Ivan McClellan

© Ivan McClellan



© Ivan McClellan

© Ivan McClellan



© Ivan McClellan

Ivan’s photography is quite revealing of his subject. He is adept at capturing both a moment and a feeling, evoking a sense of warmth and care in imagery – he wants to portray them for who they are and celebrate their culture.

“I had a great time capturing all these photos and was embraced by this culture,” he explains. “I’m always nervous when I start to photograph, but these genuine, warm people always put me at ease and give me the confidence to capture their lives. I hope people will feel the emotion and care that I ‘ve brought to photography. and stories.”

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