Portland, Oregon might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think “rodeo”, much less one centered around connecting Black cowboys with the community. But for photographer, designer, and now rodeo boss — Ivan McClellan, the opportunity and challenge of creating 8 Seconds Juneteenth Rodeo was all part of the allure. We caught up with Ivan after the event to chat about the inspiration behind it, the hard work that went into it, and what’s on the horizon.
Interview by Ivan McClellan
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Ivan McClellan. I’m a photographer and storyteller based in Portland, Oregon. Eight years ago, a chance encounter introduced me to Black cowboy culture. I immediately fell in love with the style, athleticism, and open hearts of these extraordinary people. For years, I traveled to rodeo after rodeo, sitting on fences and sweating behind my camera. My wife suggested that I start an Instagram page to share my photos and the stories of these athletes. I named the page Eight Seconds, and followers were thrilled to learn that Black cowboys were real. I soon started partnering with brands like Tecovas to diversify the western world.
What compelled you to build a rodeo from scratch?
Last year, after eight years of working on this project, my friend Vince Jones-Dixon asked if I could bring some Black cowboys to Oregon for Juneteenth. I thought about it and said, "What if we did a rodeo?" I already had relationships with athletes, a fervent fanbase, and great relationships with brands. My thought was that all I had to do was bring those things into one space, and boom, I've got a rodeo.
The rodeo community feels like a family. In that spirit, any hidden gems that rodeo fans shouldn’t miss?
Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo — Fort Worth, TX
The biggest and most inviting Black rodeo of them all. This is one of the first rodeos I shot and I've been back time after time.
Arizona Black Rodeo — Scottsdale, AZ
I'll take any excuse to travel from Portland to Arizona, and this rodeo is a heck of a reason. People are friendly and the cowboys are thrilled to be there.
Real Cowboy Association National Black Rodeo Finals — Bossier, LA
I haven't been to this rodeo yet but I'm going to make it happen this year. The best cowboys in the country and an arena full of hyped-up fans.
What does it mean to you to live/work in the spirit of “Don’t Go Gently?”
It was much harder than I expected. We were an unknown entity in the live event space, and people frankly thought we were crazy to do a Black rodeo in the middle of Portland, Oregon. But I was determined to bring this thing to life. I knew that in this city with a small but thriving Black population, seeing Black cowboys enter the arena for the grand entry would inspire and activate so many young people. Every day, I put on my boots and my cowboy hat and got to work sourcing dirt, lighting, bleachers, sound, and all the pieces that would make this event special.
We believe the West is more about a mindset than a physical place and it calls all of us in one way or another? How does it call you and how do you answer?
I'm not a cowboy in the traditional sense, but I have produced my own rodeo. I saw a need, and I filled that need. The extraordinary athletes who traveled from around the country to thrill and inspire the crowd here don't get the money or recognition they deserve. My mission is to create equity in the Western world and elevate these athletes to the top of their disciplines. Being a photographer in Portland, I may seem like an unlikely steward of this work, but I do it with joy and all the energy I have.
What would you say to someone who’s feeling the urge, but maybe nervous about chasing down their passions?
It takes a lot of bravery to swim so far upstream. There was so much I didn't know, and that led to a lot of fear. Whenever I got stuck, I called people who had done rodeos before and asked questions until they hung up on me. I surrounded myself with a phenomenal team that had produced live events. I realized that I could never achieve my dream on my own; it had to be a team effort.
We think cowboy boots are pretty magic. How do you feel when you pull on your favorite pair?
I'm 6'1" barefoot. In boots, I'm about 6'3". It feels good up there, and people react a little differently. When I'm walking down hallways into a meeting, you can hear me before you see me. For a long time, I was shy to wear cowboy boots and hats, but now they're all I wear.
Tecovas aims to be stewards of the West for the next generation of Western — what does that mean to you, and what would you want the next generation to know about Western?
This year all 30 cowboys who competed in the rodeo were from out of town. My vision is that in ten years we have a few competitors from Portland who saw the event this year and got inspired to go ride a horse or a bull. Portland is at a turning point and it has the opportunity to become a more inclusive and equitable place. I think there’s no better way to get to that future than to become a little Western.
What do you have on the horizon that you’re going after next?
We’re already planning next year’s event to be bigger and better! The sponsors are lining up and nobody thinks we’re crazy anymore. It's also important for me to get back to photographing the culture that I love and telling the stories of these cowboys.
For Ivan, this is only the first chapter of what’s sure to be a page-turner of a story. Follow along on his Don’t Go Gently journey by heading over to:
Ivan McClellan — The man with the vision to make his rodeo dream a reality.
Kennedi Carter — Talented photographer with a focus on Black subjects. She captured the essence of 8 Seconds Rodeo — both action and the quiet moments in-between.
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