The Meaning Behind The Photo for Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ Album

beyonce blair caldwell cowboy carter ii
Blair Caldwell’s photograph for Beyoncé’s new country album Act II: Cowboy Carter

Photographer Blair Caldwell has shot the striking cover artwork for Beyoncé’s new album — in an image that intends to give new meaning to the concept of “country music.”

On Wednesday, Beyoncé announced the forthcoming release of her latest studio album Act II: Cowboy Carter — a record influenced by country music.

In an Instagram post, Beyoncé revealed the album’s cover image — shot by Texan photographer Blair Caldwell — which shows the singer riding a white horse, holding an American flag, wearing a 10-gallon cowboy hat, decked out in red, white and blue.

In the accompanying caption, Beyoncé, who is also Texan, gave some insight into why she is making a country album.

She appeared to suggest that it came about after she received backlash from the mainstream country community after releasing a country song called Daddy Lessons in 2016.

“This album has been over five years in the making,” Beyoncé writes on Instagram.

“It was born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed… and it was very clear that I wasn’t.”

Caldwell’s photograph for Act II: Cowboy Carter intentionally plays with country music’s iconography. In his image, the photographer allows Beyoncé to visually clap back to critics who previously told her she didn’t belong in country music.

“The aesthetic choice is bold and seems to be signaling the ways that Beyoncé is putting herself into conversations about nationalism, a theme very much central to discourses about country music, patriotism, and authenticity, from the times of its origins,” Francesca T Royster, an English professor at DePaul University and author of Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions, tells The Guardian.

Rodeo Queens, Presidents, and American Cowboys

According to an analysis by Artnet, Caldwell’s photograph is reminiscent of the imagery of rodeo queens, who similarly carry the flag while riding their horse after winning the title.

The publication notes that Beyoncé’s platinum hair cascades down in a way that resembles that of a real Rodeo Queen’s and the singer even rides sidesaddle, like royalty, in the photograph.

ArtNet also comments on the similarities between Caldwell’s photograph and the art of Kehinde Wiley who depicts Black people in imperial positions formerly reserved for white leaders.

The image of Beyoncé also alludes to presidential portraits which show leaders atop a horse. Presidents depicted in equestrian art include George Washington and Andrew Jackson.

Caldwell’s photograph also nods to the emblem of the American cowboy and its status in American mythology as a symbol of patriotism and nationalism.

By portraying Beyoncé as an American cowboy, Caldwell’s photograph seeks to reinscribe images of Black women into the history of the cowboys and the West.

An Image That Reclaims Country Music

The imagery comes at a time when the American cowboy is undergoing a reassessment, with artists reclaiming the lost legacy of Black cowboys and female cattle drivers.

As Frank Rojas notes in The New York Times, Beyoncé looks directly into the camera with her face forward in Caldwell’s photograph as though she is reclaiming her place in country music — at a time when Black artists are often excluded from the genre.

The imagery in Caldwell’s photograph also reminds fans of Beyonce’s Texan roots and also that her entry into the country genre isn’t as random as many might assume — given some of the Black origins of country music itself.