Photography

Close Range

TANVI BHATIA

Ronnie Tessler documented rodeos across western Canada and throughout the American Northwest from 19761979. Her photographs capture more than just the sport itself; they explore the moments before and after the main event, the community surrounding rodeo and the lifestyle that comes with it. These photographs were taken with short lenses at close range, allowing Tessler to capture the intimacy of small details: facial expressions, flashes of emotion, minute gestures. We’re right there with her as she watches a man get bucked off his horse or spots a cowboy in a quiet moment, stretching his legs before a ride.

In 2021, Sarah Genge produced a documentary about Tessler’s Rodeo Series in collaboration with the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC, where this collection of photographs lives, titled Crackin’ Out: The Ronnie Tessler Collection. In Crackin’ Out, a camera zooms in on a selection of Tessler’s photographs, one by one, as they are placed in different locations—a shop, an empty stadium, a city—a filming technique which mimics the experience of approaching a photograph on the wall of a gallery. Genge interviews a selection of Tessler’s subjects alongside people with different connections to rodeo, creating an intersection of voices that mirrors the many angles of Tessler’s photojournalism. Genge aims to explore “the way in which a photograph evokes different stories and ideas to different people, just as much as it depicts a particular moment in time.” One way that Crackin’ Out achieves this is in questioning who’s missing from these photographs, and from our cultural narrative about rodeo. The film touches briefly on queer and Indigenous histories of rodeo, bringing in the voices of Adrian Stimson, Celia Haig-Brown and Nicholas Villanueva, among others, to place Tessler’s photographs in a broader context.

What is unchanging about these images, despite the lens through which they’re perceived, is their undeniable energy. The full Crackin’ Out exhibit, which features a selection of Tessler’s photographs alongside the documentary, can be found at jewishmuseum.ca/exhibit/crackin-out.

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