“Hey bud, don’t blink or you’ll miss it” the guy behind the counter said after I answered his query as to where I was headed. I had stopped to grab a coffee along highway 97 about five hours drive north into the mountains from Vancouver. My destination was the town of Falkland, named after a career British soldier, Colonel Falkland GE Warren who had settled in the area in 1892. The reason for my visit was to photograph an annual event very popular with those living in the area, namely the 94th
Annual Falkland Stampede. One of the oldest rodeos in Canada the stampede began as a community picnic in March of 1919 to celebrate the end of the First World War months earlier. Each year as the event grew area residents gathered to enjoy local cowboys riding broncos and in 1969 the little stampede was sanctioned as a professional rodeo.
I first became aware of the Stampede while covering forest fires in 2003 just north of area. I had seen a very weathered sign by a roadside and thought it might be worth looking into as a photo essay. It took nine years before opportunity and not forgetting, till after it was over, to finally attend.
As the coffee jockey had said Falkland was a very small place nestled between two valleys. With about 10 shops and homes on the main street it wasn’t hard to find the stampede grounds. The old wooden stands with signs of recent repairs surrounded the smalldirt ring lined by white metal fencing and animal staging chutes at each end. For a photographer finding places like this causes one to quietly say…Yesssss! As some will say, well small rodeos like this are nothing new many have been photographed before and as I like to joke back, “That’s very true my friend, but not by me.”
For many photographers covering any event these days can be an exercise in futility when it comes to taking photographs. So many organizers are so uptight about ‘their message’ or ‘controlling photographers’ many times by days end I ask myself if its even worth it anymore. Not so at the Falkland Stampede, everything was the exact opposite and very laid back. Obviously I had to demonstrate through letters and e-mails I was there legitimately to photograph the event but after that was established from then on I was on my own. I could go basically where I wanted as long as I didn’t enter the ring during competition which I assured them was not something I would do willingly. As a result of this quiet country attitude I decided not to scurry around sticking my lens in the faces of competitors or spectators. I spent the three days trying as best I could no to be noticed,
thus on several occasions able to take pictures as if I wasn’t even there. Of course this meant I might miss a nice photo or two, which happened on at least one occasions. In that particular case I saw a nice moment of a cowboy preparing for the bull riding spending a quiet moment to himself mentally preparing. It was a photo I would like to have had but it meant sprinting about 10-metres and most likely disturbing his private moment. Though I slowly walked towards him in hopes he would remain till I got there, it was not to be. I thought afterwards maybe I should have rushed it and some will agree saying you “you blew it Clark”. Then again this ain’t the big city chasing spot news down the street either, there will plenty more where that came from and so there were
After spending the first day photographing cowboys preparing and generally behind the scenes I decided to spend day two shooting the action inside the ring. This was when I experienced my ‘Close Encounter of the Equine Kind’. While up against the fence during the saddle bronc competition I was hoping to get a nice low wide-angle image if any of the horses came my way. About halfway through the competition a very aggressive horse inappropriately called ‘Tender Foot’ quickly threw his rider and came bucking in my direction. Seizing the moment I quickly tilted my camera up and instinctively reached out about a foot under the fence firing away. What I had failed to notice in the action was an outrider was galloping full tilt up the fence line on my right to catch up to the bronco and bring it under control. How the outrider horse missed by hands and camera I will never know. Though my fingers and camera survived the close call unscathed my face and mouth did get a generous portion of flying dirt as payment for my inattention.
Overall my three days at the 94 edition of the Falkland Stampede were the best assignment I have had in many months. It was a nice exercise to observe and photograph instead of reacting as many of us are forced to do in the day to day news photography world. Remember though if you ever decide to visit and photograph the Falkland Stampede yourself, “don’t blink you may miss it”….