“Javaris and Gramps” (2017) by Rory Doyle.
There is a tenderness to the images in works like “Western Light” (2018) of a horse barn flooded with sunlight from an open door. In the foreground an older man sits, eyes closed, as if soaking in the heat and light, while a girl grooms a horse in the distance behind him and the light filters through the animal’s cornsilk-colored tail. We’ve become so used to seeing black men represented in less than flattering ways, that it’s all the more profound to see the tenderness on display in Doyle’s work, from an intergenerational portrait of a grandfather and grandson posed against a horse trailer in “Javaris and Gramps” (2017) to his image of a man shot overhead, hidden beneath his cowboy hat, cradling a tiny newborn in “Newest Cowboy in Town” (2018). The delicacy and sweetness of these relationships are visible in an image of two small boys riding a horse together in “Young Riders” (2018) the lead rider vigilant and cautious as he grips the reins and surveys the landscape ahead and the other one unselfconsciously embracing the rider to hold the saddle horn. Many of the images allow for a similar tenderness and sense of conviviality between boys and men that offer a nuanced vision of male relationships.
“Trail Ride Trios” (2018) by Rory Doyle.
Part of the cowboy ethos has been about escape and freedom. From John Wayne in “The Searchers” to Clint Eastwood’s revisionist loner in “Unforgiven,” a self-imposed exile from mainstream society is integral to our idea of the cowboy’s make and model. So it’s no wonder then, that black Americans living in the South would identify with that ideal of occupying another, separate realm. The project reflects the necessity of community and a shared sense of rites and rituals that might help sustain black Americans living in the deep South.
“Delta Hill Riders: Photographs by Rory Doyle”
Through November 23. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays. Free. Hudgens Center for Art & Learning, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, #300, Duluth, 770.623.6002, thehudgens.org
Bottom line: Beautifully composed portraits of a community of black cowboys living in the Mississippi Delta captures a hidden dimension of American life.