Rivard Report: So what’s it like to spend Valentine’s Day at the rodeo?

Corey Leamon
Corey Leamon

Corey Leamon: To be honest, it seemed like every other day at a rodeo. They always seem full of couples to begin with, but I was slightly disappointed to find not one couple who matched their outfits! 

RR: What was your favorite moment/event/photograph from Thursday night’s festivities?

CL: The best event I stumbled across was junior heifer breeding. It amazes me that these kids, all appearing to be under 16-years-old, can care for and control such huge beasts. It must take amazing discipline, and it gives me hope that the idea of ranching and respect for the animals who provide people with so much will live on in some manner, instead of us completely giving-in to heartless, manufactured operations. 

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RR: Did you have any challenges while taking this set of photos that you think are unique to rodeo or rodeo-like events?

CL: There are three major difficulties in shooting rodeo environments: lighting, dirty air, and finding concentration. The way the warehouses are built, you are accounting for two types of mixed light (fluorescent and daylight, sometimes incandescent as a third). Those sources of light are also very drastic and never evenly dispersed.

Rodeo also inherently means hay, dirt, and sand flying everywhere; you can’t be afraid to get dirty and you have to be very careful to cover your lens glass (and mirror lens when changing pieces). Cameras are very tedious to clean, especially when you start talking about pollens and dirt.

Photo by Corey Leamon.
Photo by Corey Leamon.

The third difficulty is how to prevent feeling overwhelmed. There are thousands of moments happening around you, and it takes discipline to key-in and be patient. I have to re-teach this to myself constantly. In the heifer breeding arena, for instance, I spent 20 minutes not getting what I wanted until I backed off, waited, and then saw potential. That was followed by more waiting, until this young girl inched into a stream of light with her heifer. I get a lot of curious looks while I awkwardly stand around, but it pays off. 

RR: What made you want to photograph Valentine’s Day at the rodeo of all places? 

CL: I honestly thought there would be matching outfits.

RR: What brings you to San Antonio? What keeps you here?  

CL: I grew up in the Dallas suburbs and came down to Central Texas for school. After graduating, I moved to San Antonio in June 2011 to work as a graphic designer at Lake|Flato Architects, which is where I still am today. Living in the heart of Texas is what made me finally fall in love with my home state. In the “metroplex”, you are not regularly exposed to the natural beauty and heritage of the state like you are down here. In San Antonio particularly, there is an amazing mix of western and Mexican culture still thriving (and reviving) as the city becomes more urban and progressive.

RR: What brought you into the photography world?

CL: I started taking photography seriously when I was 15, after my mom got me a Nikon D80 for Christmas. Back then I shot more architecture, nature, and portraits of friends – it taught me composition in controlled environments. It wasn’t until college that I began doing freelance in order to keep my finances up for the impending student loan debt.

Biker. Photo by Corey Leamon.
Photo by Corey Leamon.

I began doing weddings and professional portraits on-location while working as a photojournalist for The Daily Texan. I got really into shooting sports at UT, as well! I grew the most those last two years, learning how to read situations I couldn’t control, feel the slightest adjustment in lighting, and have patience.

Holi. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Photo by Corey Leamon.

I am still trying to figure out why I love breaking my back with this equipment; it is two-sided, I think. As a personal matter, photography is very introspective and helps me isolate myself even if I’m in public. Having to frame the world inside a viewfinder asks me to appreciate the details in life and find humility.

A camera is also a tool of engagement – if the subject isn’t too busy, I like to talk with them and learn a little something about them. Some photographers like to be observers only, but in reality I think that is rare. Your presence alone creates dialogue. To me, a great photo captures a story, and in the end stories are all we have.

RR: What do you like taking photos of most? What inspires you?

CL: I’ve grown the most from documentary photography, so that’s what I appreciate most. I love to photograph people in their environments, as well as this gorgeous world we live in. I’ve gotten back into landscapes after my last few visits to West Texas.

RR:  What’s the “market” like for photographers  (freelance or otherwise) like yourself in San Antonio?

Photo by Corey Leamon.
Photo by Corey Leamon.

CL:Photography is an incredibly competitive field and if you don’t have a business sense, you are doomed. So many of us lean into weddings because it’s a stable market in this country; weddings won’t stop and neither will couples who want theirs documented. Photography needs to be personal in order to be marketable. Even then, it has become so accessible to non-professionals through point-and-shoots and smartphones that photographers are struggling to stay a step ahead of commercial technology.

Many professionals have upgraded their skill sets with multimedia  as a way to strengthen their storytelling. This goes back to my purpose for shooting: storytelling. Anyone can take a photo, but not everyone can tell a story without words – that takes experience and insight. I get a lot of photography work, but that’s because I price myself low for a particular demographic.

In a way, I’m “that young photographer” a lot of other professionals despise, because they are trying to make a steady income and mine is supplemental. In any case, most of my clients are from my personal network and they find me first. I can never express how thankful I am that other people somehow like my work and trust me with important moments in their lives. It gives me joy and encouragement.

RR:  Last chance, any other thoughts about the rodeo, photography, San Antonio in general?

CL: However you do it, go embrace the world and other people. Let’s Rodeo, San Antonio!

Photo by Corey Leamon.
Photo by Corey Leamon.

For more of Corey Leamon’s work, check out her website: www.coreyleamon.com or the Photos by Corey Facebook Page.

More Gallery Q&A’s on the Rivard Report:

Gallery: Al Rendon’s River Walk Holiday Lights, Past and Present December 2012

Gallery: Bike It! Mural Tour by Tom Trevino December 2012

Gallery: Urban Spaces Tour 2012 by Iris Dimmick December 2012

Gallery: The Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner, a Community Tradition November 2012

Gallery: Día de los Muertos by John Schulze October 2012

The Rivard Report is always looking for local photographers to feature on our homepage gallery – it’s easy and we pay. Interested professionals and hobbyists with a compelling visual story to share are encouraged to contact Managing Editor Iris Dimmick, iris@rivardreport.com