The “Mt Rushmore-atization” of Gay Cowboys – Bob Devin Jones on Blake Little’s Photography

October 16, 2020 | By Bob Devin Jones

The “Mt Rushmore-atization” of the Gay Cowboys

Blake Little’s Photography

Through February 14
The James Museum

Blake Little – Hollywood Style Cowboys, Sun Valley, California, 1991; archival pigment printed on Epson exhibition fiber paper, 14 x 20 inches; Loan courtesy of Blake Little.

. . .

Well, it’s about time

There are several stunning moments in the beautifully mounted exhibition of Blake Little’s photography at The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art

Blake’s photographs haunt as well as delight
candid photographs that educate as well as memorialize
and photographs that celebrate, oh yes… they celebrate

Blake’s photographs chronicle some very fascinating and joyous Americans
mostly men, many of whom were friends
His images capture these men at the rodeo, bull riding, roping and posing
and who also happen to be gay…

Gay Cowboys

Black and White photography
has the uncanny and beguiling ability
to evoke profound human emotions
joy, menace, hurt, harm or danger… loss


Blake Little – Los Angeles Cowboys, Hollywood, California, 1990; archival pigment printed on Epson exhibition fiber paper, 29 x 40.125 inches; Loan courtesy of Blake Little.

. . .

Blake Little knows this

even before I read the legend of one photograph
“Los Angeles Cowboys, Hollywood California, 1990″
I half suspected most of the 14 Cowboys captured in the photograph might be deceased
I was correct
I was reminded of the bedlam of AIDS
the indiscriminate appetite of the epidemic
14 rodeo apostles posing for a snap, no, it is not the last supper, literally… but it might as well be
as it will be for some of these Gay Cowboys
the unflinching narrative of Blake Little’s black and white photography, gives us a seat at the table…

     intimate and necessary
     the moments are emphatic and prescient

. . .

Blake Little – Brian Cornell and Alberto Rulloda, Hayward, California, 1989; archival pigment printed on Epson exhibition fiber paper, 20 x 20 inches; Loan courtesy of Blake Little.

. . .

for example the photograph

     “Frank Andrade, Phoenix Arizona, 1989 “
     has an inescapable melancholy hush
     the beauty of the subject and Andrade’s laconic straight forward stance, weight slightly shifted to his right hip

      brings to mind Saint Sebastian (minus the arrows) and
      Montgomery Clift in the Western, Red River

      so full of promise… inevitably not to be realized

      well, this is where the viewer and the photographer catch their breath
      Frank Andrade, also deceased… Lives!

     it is photojournalistic master stroke from Blake Little 

. . .

Blake Little – Chute Dogging, Phoenix, Arizona, 1989; archival pigment printed on Epson exhibition fiber paper, 13.25 x 20 inches; Loan courtesy of Blake Little.

. . .

     and a moment of profound introspection for this viewer…
     ah yes, “Only the good (and beautiful ) die young,” rarely, however do we know this in the moment
     Blake captures this “not knowing moment” like a shaman

          A shaman who becomes a Gay Cowboy
          there is a self portrait of Blake Little at the Bull Riding Championships
         “Blake Little, Phoenix Arizona, 1990”
          it is an image of man who has found his calling and a calling who has found its man
          Blake full of exuberance (in the chute) surrounded by the tackle of his passion
          the chaps
          the white cowboy hat
          the corralled bulls
          and the deliciously gaudy championship belt buckle he was just awarded
          at The James Museum, there is a lucite vitrine with over a dozen of these coveted trophies

. . .

Blake Little – Bareback Bronc Riding, San Diego, California, 1992; archival pigment printed on Epson exhibition fiber paper, 13 x 20 inches; Loan courtesy of Blake Little.

. . .

“Bareback Bronc Riding, San Diego, California 1992”
the cowboy and horse are fused in an exclamation point of compelling and competing wills
the rider has just one job, stay on the horse (and get the silver gold rimmed buckle)!
the horse has another… expel, propel, expiate, buck, this rider to some otherwhere
Blake Little’s photograph captures that liminal moment of “anything can happen”
that the narrative can be rewritten (in the bull ring) far quicker than an instant
it is an iconic and thrilling picture

. . .

Blake Little – Jerry Hubbard, Burbank, California, 1989; archival pigment printed on Epson exhibition fiber paper, 20 x 20 inches; Loan courtesy of Blake Little.

. . .

         “Rodeo Bullfighter with His Children, Fort Worth, Texas 1989”
         the photograph is a charming and intimate portrait of one aspect of life at the rodeo… the Gay Rodeo
         we see a cowboy/bullfighter (possibly gay) self administering clown face makeup
         similar to the pattern on his two children, who are arrayed on the step of his SUV
         father is engrossed with his image in the mirror, precariously balanced on his knee
         while the young girl and boy passively look directly at us there is an ever so slight
         smile/grimace on the face of the boy

Even if the moms don’t let their boys “grow up to be cowboys”
there is always room for a few good photographers
and at The James Museum for the Gay Cowboy exhibition
we have on view the work of a very excellent gay cowboy photographer indeed!

–  –  –

Blake Little – Bull Riding, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1989; archival pigment printed on Epson exhibition fiber paper, 12 x 12 inches; Loan courtesy of Blake Little.

Developed at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, Indiana, this collection of 41 black and white images explores the diverse and complex nature of individual and community identity in Western rural culture.

Taken between 1988 and 1992 at events from Oklahoma to California, the collected body of images combines the action of riding, roping and chute dogging with intimate views into the lives of rodeo participants, examining themes of competition and community and inviting an expansive redefinition of cowboy identities.

. . .

Through February 14 at
The James Museum

. . .

Explore Blake Little’s work at

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