Life & Culture

Photographing the Real Cowboys of South Australia

In a new photo essay, published exclusively on, photographer Lee Whittaker captures the brave bull riders of Carrieton, South Australia

It’s clear that cowboys are having a moment. The spirit of the South is currently being manifested across the worlds of fashion and music: from the recent collections of Balenciaga, Pyer Moss and Telfar Clemens to Kacey Musgraves’ 2019 Grammy win and Solange’s homage to Houston in her new album When I Get Home, designers and musicians are subverting the traditional image of the cowboy, reappropriating it for the modern age and making it inclusive.

The Wild West is being manifested in other places, too – something British photographer Lee Whittaker discovered on a recent trip to Australia, where he visited the town of Carrieton in the country’s south.

Here, Whittaker entered into another world filled with cowboys and bull riders blithely unaware that the accoutrements of the culture are making their way down the runways of New York and Paris Fashion Week. Inspired by the razzle-dazzle of ten-gallon hats, glittering belt buckles, custom-made chaps, colourful cowboy boots and shirts, Whittaker shares the story of his very first time at the rodeo, alongside his images which are published exclusively on

“I first got bitten by the country western bug after receiving a commission from a magazine to shoot cowboys in Japan. There’s none of that here in England. It is fascinating to find American culture that’s happening in other places.

My girlfriend is Australian so we go to Australia for Christmas every year. We ended up on a road trip and found this rodeo. Everyone was so nice, it was so easy. Everyone was so welcoming. It was beautiful to have open arms welcoming and not have any egos. I shot everyone, and they were happy and interested.

I shot the pictures over the course of an afternoon. I had a pass to get backstage, in the pit where the bull riders were preparing. I’m not sure I agree with riding wild animals but I think there’s a respect you have to have for someone that is prepared to risk their life for eight seconds. It’s scary.

They were quite shy, and if I had asked them outside the backstage area they would have said ‘no’. Some were very disconnected. Usually when I am taking pictures, people are curious and they want to chat. The bull riders weren’t asking questions. It was a transactional conversation. There was no chat. They just stood in front of the camera, I took the picture, and that was it. There wasn’t any emotion. It was just deadpan.

The desert landscape is so dry. Only certain creatures can live there. There’s a harshness in the landscape that comes out in the people who live out there. There’s the harshness and loneliness that comes with it, and only certain types of people can deal with it. It’s a completely different life. There’s no one around.”

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