Photographer‘s Five Year Project Documenting Black Cowboys

The Lonesome Ranger, 2023

A photographer spent five years capturing “America’s backbone,” modern cowboys in the South and southeast.

Gem Hale’s project Hay Day depicts Black cowboys keeping a Southern tradition alive in the 21st century.

“There’s this fascination with cowboys in the American media,” Hale tells PetaPixel.

“How the Black cowboy is typically portrayed is in a very urban environment (Compton cowboys, Fletcher street cowboys) so I wanted to take a step back and dive deeper into my roots and my family’s roots to show a more rural side to this story.”

Alabama Black rancher, 2023.
Family bonding, 2020.

Hale says he was curious to know more about the lives of the cowboys still residing in the American South.

“The modern cowboy is history meeting the present, to impact the future. I have spent the last four years getting to connect with these people,” he says.

“Learning about their farms and ranches, their lifestyles and values, but most importantly their tradition, and why they keep it alive.”

See me for what I am, 2021.
young cowboy
Young cowboy on trail ride, 2020.

Hale began the project after going out on trail rides with the cowboys and getting to know them.

“It became a challenge at times finding new and unique cowboys to feature but the universe played in my favor always and the connections always came about very organically,” he says.

“I found that these cowboys are the backbone of our American society. In a physical aspect, they make sure we have food on our tables.

“More than that they have influenced an entire culture that’s crossed over into key aspects of fashion. Hay Day reveals the dawn of a new way for the Black Cowboy to be known.”

cowboys resting
Cowboys resting in a field, 2020.
Lonesome night in Leakey, Texas, 2019.

Hale, originally from Texas and now residing in Atlanta, shot Hay Day between 2018 and 2023 so used multiple cameras for the project.

“I used a Fujifilm GFX 50r]R, a Fujifilm X-Pro 2, a Nikon D800, a Nikon Df, a Hasselblad 500 C/M, and a Contax G2,” he says.

Hale is exhibiting Hay Day during the annual Round Top Antique and Art fair in Texas from March 31 through to April 1.

“We’ve converted this beautiful big red barn into a gallery and more than that a true way to properly experience the work,” he adds.

For more about the exhibit, visit Hale’s website. More of his work can be found on his website and Instagram.