Life & Culture

A Look Inside the Angola Prison Rodeo

Travis Gillett presents a series of photos capturing the longest-running prison rodeo in the United States

Drawn to people who exist outside of the monotony of everyday life, Seattle-based photographer Travis Gillett is interested in the world beyond the Instagram ideal. His focus is on those in the American West that live on their own terms and his photography is characterised by themes of adventure and exploration.

His latest work, Freedom Behind Bars – Angola Prison Rodeo, captures the inmates of the Louisiana State Penitentiary as they take part in their annual rodeo show. Gillett uses his dynamic imagery to highlight the disparity between the liberty of the rodeo and the strict limitations of incarceration. His photographs serve as a poignant reminder that moments of freedom are fleeting for the two million people that call the American prison system their home.

“Louisiana has the nation’s highest incarceration rate and is known for tough sentencing. Approximately 75% of inmates at Angola Prison will never leave, and I wanted to meet some of them. For those here serving time for the rest of their days, the rodeo acts as a reminder of life on the other side. They mill around, joke with fellow convicts, and see family and friends. In this work, I hoped the idea of humanity would come across.

This rodeo exists where many worlds intersect: American history, Western cowboy tradition, civil rights, the prison-industrial complex and long debated human-animal relationships. I chose to talk to the prisoners that were competing and learn about their experience at the rodeo and in prison and give them a voice rather than pre-conceive. We tend to forget that in the end it’s always people who are at the center of these cultural phenomena we discuss and debate.”