Interview with Rory Doyle, 2018 EyeEm Award winner

Interview with Rory Doyle, 2018 EyeEm Award winner


We’re always on the lookout for talent. Photographers who stand out from the crowd and inspire us. Who give us a glimpse into the beauty of this world and the unknown. Who tell untold stories. However, with so much visual ‘noise’, we sometimes miss out on a lot of good stuff and that might have been the case with Rory Doyle, had he not emailed us one fine Friday morning.

We’ll keep what we talked about between him and us (for now), but what we will tell you is that from the moment we saw his work we were intrigued to say the least.

A deep-dive into “an overlooked African-American subculture — one that resists both historical and contemporary stereotypes”, his ongoing project on the Mississippi Delta Cowboys & Cowgirls is the perfect example of what inspires us.

Christelle Enquist: Tell our readers little bit about yourself

Rory Doyle: I grew up in rural Maine shooting family videos, where I first gained a love for cameras. But it wasn’t until my last semester of journalism school that I realised my true passion is photojournalism. And for the last nine years, I’ve been seeking out stories to share from the Mississippi Delta, one of the most unique regions in America.

CE : Is Mississippi Delta Cowboys & Cowgirls your first long term project?

Rory Doyle : Yes, the Delta cowboys and cowgirls project is my first serious long-term project. I started documenting this subculture in 2017, and I’ve been very embedded in the work ever since. Since I live here, I’ve gotten to know everyone really well. As long as I continue to reside in Mississippi, I intend to document this passionate group of riders.

CE: What catapulted the idea for this project?

Rory Doyle: A couple years back, I saw a small group of African American cowboys riding at the end of the Christmas parade in my town, Cleveland, Mississippi. These cowboys immediately struck me — a complete contrast to the traditional idea of an American cowboy. I ran up to one of the riders in the middle of the parade, and asked if I could come photograph them. Since then, I’ve been capturing as many aspects of their life as I can.

CE: What have been the biggest challenges you have had to face?

Rory Doyle: The geography of the project is pretty expansive. The MS Delta is a fairly large area, so I’ve spent a lot of time on the road traveling to rodeos, horse shows, trail rides and more. I’ve invested a lot of my own resources into this work, but I have no regrets about it. All the miles on the road are worth it, because I feel such a strong connection to the people and the body of work.

CE: I’m sure that over the past year and a half there have been many memorable moments. Can you share one with us?

Rory Doyle: There’s a well-known cowboy here named the Dancing Cowboy (because he’s notoriously a bad dancer). He’s also a remarkable self-taught folk artist, with a focus on painting. Well, I surprised him with a framed portrait I took with his daughter for his birthday party — but to my surprise, he painted a picture of me with my camera riding in a wagon. He was inspired to paint the scene after I attended a trail ride he organised the previous year. I feel very connected to these folks, and that’s been the most rewarding element of all.

CE: You won first place in the National Press Photographers Association competition and took the winning prize in photojournalism at the Eye Em awards this year (Congratulations!). Has this affected this ongoing project in any way?

Rory Doyle: It’s such a special feeling to be acknowledged for this project. I never could have imaged how much publicity the work would receive. It’s been kind of mind-blowing actually! I have so much gratitude for Eye Em and the NPPA. I also need to thank the Mississippi Arts Commission, which awarded me a visual artist fellowship to support the project. I think the biggest impact of all this publicity is that many people have been able to see the work, and see the stories of the subjects. The cowboys and cowgirls are receiving attention, and that’s a big deal — mostly because we live in rural Mississippi, and by many accounts, we are an area largely overlooked in American media.

CE: Many people find it hard to find outlets for their photography. How have you gone about it with Mississippi Delta Cowboys & Cowgirls?

Rory Doyle: Truthfully, the photography world has changed through social media. It’s had a direct impact on my project and led to some opportunities. In fact, I ended up with two solo exhibits in New York City because gallery owners saw a unique photo of a cowboy rearing his horse in the snow on my Instagram page. But there’s also extreme value in face-to-face interactions, which is why it was a real privilege to attend the Eye Em awards during Berlin Photo Week earlier this month. I was able to show the work to representatives from Magnum and Getty images. It’s all about networking, and making a constant effort to make direct connection with people.

CE: What advice would you give someone who wants to embark on a long-term photography project?

Rory Doyle: The first thing I would say is find something that you care about. Don’t pick a topic just because you want to put a long-term project on your résumé. Your best work will be something you are invested in, especially on a personal level. Also, don’t be frustrated when you can’t seem to nail down your specific theme. It took me years to settle on a topic, and when it’s right, you should be able to know it pretty quickly.

A big thank you Rory, for your time and for this very interesting interview.

Dear readers, if you want to see more of Rory’s work check out the links below!

Web | Instagram | Facebook

Also check out the amazing ‘Young Guns’ ft. the dancing cowboy!


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