Karoliina Paatos HEROES 19.8.–9.10.2022

“It’s called the Gay Rodeo but obviously it is not limited to gay people. It’s all-welcoming. That is the key.”
– Phil, competitor

The American West has been the home of many countercultures. Gay rodeo is one of them. Still marginal and little known even among the gay community it contradicts the prevailing idea of the cowboy, which does not include different roles or sexual identities. It was born out of discrimination in the 1970s but has become a chosen family for many who do not feel at home in regular rodeos and whose families still do not accept their sexual identities. The carnivalistic drag culture is essential part of the gay rodeo and everyone is allowed to take part in any sport regardless their gender.

Heavy trucks, many of which were hauling horse trailers, filled the rodeo grounds. The air was thick with adrenaline, dust, sweat and loud music. Wherever I looked, I could see big animals, blue jeans and wide-brimmed cowboy hats. On top of all that, there was a layer of glitter, sparkle, drag queens and dance music hits. This was my first gay rodeo.”

As much as I watched and took pictures, I talked with everyone: the competitors, the spectators and the arena crew. I was an outsider from Finland but I felt welcome. I wanted to know more about this rodeo circuit and these people–“the rodeo family,” as I soon learned. Everyone had a story to tell and most were willing to share theirs with me. I have been going back ever since.”

These images were taken during eight years from 2011 to 2019 in and around International Gay Rodeo Association’s Finals Rodeos in Fort Worth, Texas and Las Vegas, Nevada, Arizona Gay Rodeos in Phoenix, Arizona and Zia Regional Rodeo in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Karoliina Paatos (1979) is an award-winning visual artist and photojournalist. Her new photobook Heroes was published in 2021 by The Angry Bat with two editions: the Newspaper Edition of 1000 and the handmade Artist Edition of 80. Heroes’ Artist Edition won in Slovenia The Award for Excellent Design in 2022. The book can be ordered from the artist www.karoliinapaatos.com and bought from Valokuvagalleria Hippolyte’s bookshop.


Arts Promotion Centre Finland, Finnish Cultural Foundation and Belgrade Photo Month have supported this project.


Karoliina Paatos

19 August –9 October 2022
Hippolyte Korjaamo (Töölönkatu 51 A-B, 00250 Helsinki)
Open according to the opening hours of Korjaamo


Image: Karoliina Paatos, A kiss (Robert & Troy), International Gay Rodeo Finals, Fort Worth, Texas 2012