Michael P. Smith Fund For Documentary Photography 2015 Finalist Jeremiah Ariaz Trail Riders in Louisiana

Project Summary: While riding my motorcycle in South Louisiana, I encountered a large group of people riding horseback. They commanded the road and I pulled over for them to pass. I retrieved my camera from the saddlebag of my bike and took a few photographs as they rode by. A gentleman near the end of the procession waved encouraging me to join them. So began my ride with the African-American Trail Riding Clubs.

I grew up in Kansas and had a particular image of a cowboy shaped by popular culture. They were gruff, serious, white, and situated in the West. The Trail Riders in Louisiana are a stark contrast to most depictions of cowboys, however, their history is deep-rooted and stems from a time when Louisiana Territory was the American West. The first cowboys, or vaqueros, were black slaves brought by Europeans from the port of New Orleans to the vast grasslands of south Louisiana. Here, in the 17th and 18th centuries, ranching flourished creating an African-American equestrian culture. In an article on Louisiana Cowboys, Chris Turner-Neal writes, “The prairies of the Attakapas and Opelousas districts, covering most of South Louisiana west of the Atchafalaya, afforded grand opportunities to those who would take them, and the early records of ranchers in the area list the unsurprising settlement of Frenchmen, but also women, Native Americans, and free people of color—the ingredients of the Creole world that would soon arise.” For many of Creole, horsemanship became a way of life. Today, according to folklorist and professor Connie Castille, “for many of Louisiana’s black men, the horse is still associated with freedom, independence, work and respect.” (Read full proposal below)

Congratulations to all of the Finalists in the 2015 Michael P. Smith Fund For Documentary Photography

Ariaz's Project Proposal

All images © Jeremiah Ariaz