Success Stories is a blog series where we talk to artists on Dripbook about their recent successful projects, providing industry insights from top creative professionals.
Continuing with this series, we hear from Jeff Berlin, a Los Angeles-based photographer whose aviation expeditions landed him on the "Cowboy Christmas" rodeo circuit, resulting in published images that exude authentic American culture. Read below to see what he had to say about this project:
"The project I’d like to discuss for the Dripbook Success Story is my documentary rodeo project. This is a passion project that I’ve been working on for some years and this month, I have a gallery and featured profile in Cowboys & Indians magazine. It’s very satisfying that a passion project for me has been recognized by them and, as of a few years ago, by American Cowboy magazine. These are the two top magazines in the Western Lifestyle space, so that’s pretty cool."
"This rodeo project also rekindled my passion for photography, but the way I came to it was though aviation.
A number of years ago, I had taken a break from full time photography (fashion, beauty, celebrity) and was contributing to aviation magazines as a writer, shooting only my own stories. I’m also an airplane pilot, and at this time I was writing airplane reviews. Just like the car magazines do with for example, the new 2016 Cadillac, I would go out and test fly new airplanes and write stories about flying them. It was a lot of fun and I’ve flown many different types of planes all over the world, from the little Piper Cub to the F-16 fighter jet to flying twice across the Atlantic in an airplane called the TBM850."
"One day, I got a call from an airplane company called Cirrus Aircraft. They make an airplane called the SR22 and it’s the airplane that I’ve flown the most. I have many hundreds of hours in them. It’s a great little four-seat speedster that I equate to friends by telling them it’s like a BMW 3-series with wings. It’s fun, fast and packed to the gills with the coolest, latest aviation technology.
My friend who called was the PR for the company and asked if I’d like to come to the factory (in Duluth, MN, I was NYC based), pick up an airplane, fly it to Colorado, pick up a professional rodeo cowboy, fly to rodeos for a week, and do a story about it. Now to explain, the crux of the story wasn’t really rodeo, it was the flexibility in travel that flying one’s own airplane affords, but we used rodeo as the catalyst to that message - that with a private airplane, you can do things that you could never do flying by airline. That’s true."
"Long story short, I picked up the plane, flew to Colorado, picked up a professional team- and calf tie-down roper named K.C. Jones, and spent the week leading up to the 4th of July buzzing around the U.S. In the rodeo world, they call this week Cowboy Christmas. There are more rodeos held that period, from late June through late July, than during any other time of the year. We hit as many as three rodeos a day in my friend’s rush to win as many points, and dollars as possible. The top 15 cowboys from each event, at the end of the year, are invited to compete in the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, so Cowboy Christmas is a busy time for top contenders like my friend."
"So that week I flew that plane from Colorado to Utah to Arkansas to South Dakota to North Dakota to Nevada to Wyoming and to Arizona. It was a blast, exhausting, but a blast. And when my cowboy friend was off rodeoing, I was running around taking pictures of this new (to me) world. And since my photographic background is in fashion and celebrity portraits, I couldn’t help but bring that sensibility to my rodeo pix. It’s just how I see, at this point."
"I ended up falling in love with rodeo. It’s achingly photogenic and has its roots in American history. The Reno Rodeo and Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo are two of my favorites. I now try to go to a few rodeos every year, and one day hope to create a book from my travels in this world. In the meantime, it’s very satisfying to be recognized by some of the top magazines in the space. I haven’t yet tried to capitalize commercially on this body of work, but give me some time. For now, I’m content going to a few events a year and keeping the project growing."
"And anyway, it was my desire to get into the magazines first. That’s always how it’s been for me since I was a young photographer. I have always loved shooting editorials for magazines. Don’t get me wrong, shooting commercial work is awesome, but magazines are my first love. Shooting a magazine editorial was a great opportunity to try new things with an awesome support crew. And since rodeo was new for me, after building a small body of work, I reached out to what I considered the two top magazines that WOULD run a rodeo story - Cowboys & Indians and American Cowboy. Really all I did was pound the pavement a bit, keep on them with emails and updates with new work, and then one day the calls came, and that was very exciting."
"I would like to thank Jim Bainbridge of the PRCA, Steve Schroeder, formerly of the Reno Rodeo, Jen Eastwood and others at the Bauserman Group in Reno, Nevada, Lauren Crispin and the editors of Cowboys & Indians magazine, Eva Young and the editors of American Cowboy magazine, Kate Dougherty and Cirrus Aircraft, and all the other rodeo friends I’ve made along the way. Without them, none of this would have been possible."
Who would have thought a story initially about airplane travel could lead to such great rodeo images? Just goes to show how much seizing the moment is crucial in photography. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us Jeff!
Check out Jeff Berlin's portfolios on Dripbook .