lance rosenfield – thirst for grit [EPF Finalist]

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Lance Rosenfield

Thirst For Grit

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Emerging Photographer Fund – FINALIST (number seven of  eleven)

After returning to my hometown of Austin, Texas after years on the California coast, I set out to explore and understand one of the Lone Star State’s cultural staples: the rodeo.

With ‘Thirst for Grit’ I offer a vignette of modern-day, small-town rodeo cowboys in Texas. I traveled endless hot and dusty miles crisscrossing this oft-lonely expanse, following the itinerant ways of these men who live a life of legend and little. They share a special bond, a camaraderie with one another that seems to center on respect, loyalty and toughness. While mostly well-mannered gentlemen, rodeo riders can also be as wild and rough as the beasts they ride, and sometimes skate the edge of social rule when it comes to the bottle and women.

Every time I jump in the truck with these spirited men and burn asphalt to another small town on the horizon, it’s an embarkation on a new adventure. The rodeo is a time for these men to let loose from a hard week of labor as contractors, construction workers, and the daily grind of their lives; to hit the road with fellow rodeo cowboys and girlfriends; to grit their teeth and ride hard; to test their strength, skill and toughness, and to compete for prize money and bragging rights. Some of these men are addicted to rodeo even into their mid-life.

These cowboys uphold this old Texas institution amidst an ever-watery modern world often less forgiving of cultural traditions. They ride nearly every weekend and put their bodies and heartbeats on the line because this is their identity, they can live no other way. They are born with a thirst for grit.

Additional artist’s note:

At the beginning of this project almost two years ago, I befriended 30-year old bull-rider Jimmy “Stretch” Borunda. The mutual respect we have for each other and the trust and friendship that has formed has been my key to the door for this story. It is through my interpretation of Stretch’s world that I share ‘Thirst for Grit’. This spring Stretch was hurt badly and lost sight in his left eye. I have continued to document his return to the rodeo arena, now as a familiar presence and supporter, and will follow his quest to return to competition.

Recent related links:



Lance Rosenfield (b. Austin, Texas 1972) is a freelance photographer based in Austin, Texas. In addition to shooting editorial and commercial assignments, he concentrates on personal work such as “Thirst for Grit.” He has exhibited in a number of group shows including FotoSeptiembre and East Austin Studio Tour. He attended the Eddie Adams Barnstorm Workshop in 2007 and is a B&W Magazine Spotlight winner. Lance serves on the Board of Trustees for Austin Center for Photography and is a founding member of Texas Toast Photo Show.


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Lance Rosenfield


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

59 Responses to “lance rosenfield – thirst for grit [EPF Finalist]”

  • Great news Lance!!!
    Congratulations!! :)

  • Wow, yes Marcin, great news!! Lance, I’m very happy for you :)))))
    I love your news pictures and portraits…
    Congratulations again !
    best, audrey

  • my heart is with you lance…..:))

    fuck the rest of the other nonsense…

    ride hide in the saddle….

    remember daniel johnston!


  • Mick and the boys will love this out back of Bullamakenka …….relive the days of glory driving around in their thirsty merc ………..

  • Kelly Lynn James

    Way to go, Lance! Great work. Stretch and the boys are proud today, I’m sure.

  • LANCE,

    This essay just keeps getting better. Hook’em, Horns!

  • This essay works visually conveying the guys that do the rodeo circuit. These are complex guys that project an image of God, County and gentlemanly conduct outwardly, when a lot of thm are pretty rough characters in real life. I relate to this because shooting in East Texas, I’ve shot a lot of rodeos and seen a lot of the contradictions.

    I would really like to see this project go forward. A book of these photos with text talking about the individuals and their life in and out of the arena would be very interesting.

    A few of these photos don’t work for me, but overall a good effort.

  • Congrats, my friend. Great work. #4 stopped me in my tracks.

  • So pleased to see you among the top eleven EPF finalists, Lance, but not surprised. This project has developed a powerful presence since the day you first shared it with us way back when. Your photography was/is always superb but what I see in this edit is a clearly defined focus on not just the “out in the ring” lives of these guys, but their behind the scenes lives as well. You’ve humanized these rodeo riders and made them believable. All too often photo essays of such larger-than-life characters stretches them into caricatures of themselves, but not here. These are guys you’ve made me care about as persons. And your text is perfect!

    I look forward to seeing “Thirst For Grit” in book form and exhibited on gallery walls. But for now, may you receive whatever funds you need to complete this work.

    See you soon in C’ville!


  • Yeah Lance!

    Such a beautiful essay – tender and tough – just like the cowboys in it.


  • U Also DA MAN..
    bravo Laaaaaaance!

  • Wow. Great stuff Lance. Congratulations. I really love this essay…it’s inspiring.

    I love how you’ve brought a lot of context into this story. After viewing it, not only do I get a idea of what these individuals are like as people, but a sense of the world they live in as well. The images stand on their own, and the sequencing provides a strong sense on narrative for me.

    It feels very complete. Well done.

    Thanks, and again, congrats!


  • Whoa!!!, killer killer stuff Lance. What a great treat with my morning coffee.

    I love the story, and your treatment. Youve taken an often photographed subject a whole lot farther than I’ve ever seen. With a couple of exceptions, I LOVE your compositions, your night work, the intimacy, the grittyness. Love your skillful use of flash. Amazed at the very tight wide-andgle stuff from the chute (your gonna get your teeth kicked in if you keep that up) I thought I have a favourtite essay so far, but now I’m not so sure.

    Put me down for a book. Good luck to you. You made my day.


    Gordon L.

  • I’m curious
    with the women..
    is that their only role in the rodeo?
    … heres a cowboy story..
    very lyrical..
    #4 also stopped me..
    what a shot!!!
    true grit..
    like the feeling of being with them,
    in the car,
    in the pen….
    you took me there,
    with your photos…

  • LANCE,

    I am so happy for you man!!!!! Like many I am sure, I also feel connected to this essay having seen it grow and develop over the past year…I am thrilled to be in your company among the finalists!!!!! Will now have to go for “arm wrestling” or alternatively a few beers at Look3 JJJ Who is tougher a boxer or a cowboy???? Looking forward to see you shortly my friend and have some fun!



  • Congrats Lance!!!

    Curiously I just saw this same work at Eleanor and then in your website…

    Personally from all the 3 edits this is the one that best works for me, tightly connected images and fluid dialogue between the pictures from start to finish… Well done!

    Best of lucks!


  • I’ve been waiting for your essay to come up Lance; I knew you would be here. Congratulations. Your edit here is different than the one on your website: I’m curious to know why you didn’t show that edit? I’ve also seen some really good, well-lit, portraits that you have taken for this essay. I hope they make the book.

    I think I’ve said before that I would like to see the rodeo riders in their normal life but now I’m not so sure. Rodeo seems to personify them so perhaps this is how we should know them.

    Love the essay. Good luck with the EPF. So far, my money is on you and Eric. Wouldn’t like to choose between you.

    Good light!


  • This is the type of photography I enjoy the most, with the photog immersed in the subculture and shooting (and editing) for narrative. There is a real story here, evident in the photos: booze, sex, boredom, highways — not just pictures of broncs and bulls. Good photography, like good literature, makes a virtue of the milieu, and Lance (as photog-narrator) is a worthy guide.

  • Congrats Lance!
    Great job and look forward to seeing more on this great topic.

  • Duff Severe would have been proud.

    This essay, in it’s essence, features what’s left of the “real” cowboy of the American West. There is nothing that they — or Lance — leaves on the table. It is all there. Fine work.

  • can I say yee-haw??? very happy and proud of you..8 is still my favorite shot in the kept good and quiet about being a finalist :))) I love how you keep growing this man..

  • What is this a Lightstalkers reunion?

    Go get’em cowboy, there is just enough cake to fit the icing on, but I still think that you can go deeper on the story, hopefully with Harvey’s 10K.

  • Man, YOU have got access!!
    Classic black and white reportage at it´s very best. Really nice to see how the story maneuver out of the rodeo, these guys also ride hard while “off stage”. I think nr 11 is a bit weak, nice light but his expression is a bit “dead”, but all in all very, very strong work!

  • Nice project. I pretty much agree with Jim Powers. I think about half the photos are strong, a couple very strong and the rest so so, but then again the so so pictures can bring the others together in a nice sequence. Overall though it’s nice that you have been able to get intimate with these guys/gals and show their rodeo culture in a dynamic way. I love the photo where you flashed the rear hoof of the bull.

    On another note…last night I caught myself hooked to the mediastorm website for 2 hours. I’m really starting to think that these kinds of stories/photos/art can really work well when combined with film..I believe Jenn Ackerman did some film alongside her photos on mental illness. Perhaps you’ve thought of adding film to this project?? It might really add another dimension…just an idea…

  • Congratulations!
    I love this piece… Glad you’re in the running…

  • Great pictures! But where were the explicit ones?

  • thanks so much all.. now, where are the tough questions???? :-)

    marcin, audrey, imants!, kelly, sidney, jim, brian, patricia!, kerry, panos!, adam, gordon, armando, bob, erica, wendy!, andrea, J-F, Jan. so glad to hear from you!

    David Bacher – I can’t remember if I posted on Jenn’s story or not, but I really love her inclusion of film/video on her web-site.. it’s so so well done. I have that new 5D on it’s way (maybe today?) because yes I do envision a similar treatment with my story.. that thought is simultaneously daunting and exciting, to say the least.

    yes, there is a different edit over at and also on my web-site. i just went with my gut for each.. with perhaps a different audience in mind for each. i don’t have much more of an explanation than that as to why they are different.

    bob the cornerstone – ‘hi how are you’ amigo. really so much appreciation headed your way.

    andy, i agree.. i do not feel that this project is yet complete!

    eric, i’m so glad we get to trade notes next week! i’m really looking forward to seeing you.

    preston, kindest words, thank you!

    wendy, there is also a female nurse in this edit as well.. and with that said i have not explored all facets of the roles women play in the rodeo…. can you say ‘project’ anyone?

    i really can’t thank all of you enough for your encouraging words here.. thanks so far and stay tuned! :)

    big hugs,

  • Good to see you Lance within the final 10, or is it 11… Wish you all the best.

  • LANCE – HOT DAMN – i am so happy for you mi amigo. i can’t wait to see this project as it grows and grows – it is such a great personal body of work. i am so proud of you.

    we will all celebrate at LOOK with all the finalists!!!

  • All I can do is stupidly applaud. Outstanding!

  • “Touch Me I’m Grit!” (sorry couldn’t resist).

    Wow, amazing work (and the style I like of course) of an oft photographed subject. Great tight compositions, many containing great little surprises (the hand on the ass during the prayer!).

    Looking forward to more.


  • Nice work Lance. It makes me think of Danny Wilcox Frazier’s ‘Driftless’.

  • Sweet as! Well done Lance! Another deserving finalist! Great to see Thirst for Grit up there, I have always been a fan! Good Luck!

  • charles.. the fact that rodeo has been photographed many many times and very well has been one of my favorite challenges of this project.. it’s a risky proposition and one i’ve taken on head-first because i can only grow from it.

    davin, james – two of my favorite photographers.. thanks so much for your words… davin, yes, i love Driftless and Danny is a great all-around guy and a true inspiration.. i showed an earlier version of this to him and he gave me ‘tough love’. :) thanks for looking!


  • SP – i’m going to frame your words! :)

  • This work reminds me of the “heyday” of picture stories of the 70’s and 80’s. What modern presentation lacks is the graphics of varying sizes for the implied importance of an images, thus the disconnect between a well designed double-truck and slideshow pro. This would be helped by graphics, maybe saved.

    Lance, I hate to say it, but it’s a retro piece. This was the stock and trade of POY. We’re talkin’ Brian Lanker, Gary Settle, Chris Johns, George Wedding, Harry Benson, Dan Dry, et al (apologies to those left out) and then all of those damn NGS photographers including some guy named David Harvey in 1978. He became David Allen Harvey the following year. You see how cool that time was? You had to be tough and gritty. Portfolio reviews made you blow lunch.

    In that vein Lance, this is a been there done that. Show me more. They all loose teeth, they all have girl friends. They all drink beer, whiskey and smoke Camels. Hey, welcome to the 20th Century! If you think they need to be glorified, glorify’em. If they’re just a bunch of dirtbags hit’em hard. Let’s seem them hurt and bleed. This is the life they chose. Imagine a photo-editor saying, “Shit, I know they ride bulls and horses or whatever the fuck you call them, show me more!”

    Thanks for playing… Grind it out buddy.

  • 1. I applaud you because event photography is something I suck at

    2. I think this is the best essay of the bunch. It is the best rounded, most accessible, most balanced and varied essay of the bunch. It has a modest theme instead of these lofty aspirations from a few others, and it surpasses its goals instead of falling short. I like it very much.

  • Finally also something “classic” in the finalists ;-)
    Well deserved! Congratulations!

  • Lance,

    Wonderful to see you here. Yee-haw!
    It didn’t seem possible that you wouldn’t be included as a finalist.
    The new edit looks great.
    Keep going, rodeo season has only just begun :))

  • This essay is straight up Jack and coke on the rocks minus the pretentious frilly umbrella dangling from the side of the glass. This essay works because the photographer has formed an emotional connection with his subjects and even better it is one that he truely believes in. After viewing this essay, it is now glaringly obvious that on a wider note, the photographer has to not only believe in the script, he also has to improvise at a moments notice. This project had all the elements of spontaneity that reinforced his existence as not only a photographer, but also as individual with a heightened sense of intuition. But most importantly I feel closer to knowing Lance and his subjects after viewing the essay.

    This project has integrated Kerouacian elements into the narrative. The notion of leaving it all behind and hitting the road to see the whole canvas. Lance as the narrator has assumed the role of Sal Paradise, while the protaganist is in this case Jimmy “Stretch” Borunda playing Dean Moriaty, the true American explorer. I also find it a lovely coincidence that Jimmy even nurses an injury, just like Dean did with his rank thumb all swelled and shot with penicillins. “I’m classification three-A [jazz hounded Moriarty] has a sore butt, his wife gives him daily injections of penicillin for his thumb, which produces hives, for he’s allergic…” (On the Road, Jack Kerouac). Many people including myself talk about doing a road trip such as this with camera in tow, but Lance has gone and done that. A road trip such as this dispels notions of lapping up the waves on the Miami foreshore, as the ultimate destination is in fact a better understanding of the wider human psyche.

    On a technical note, I loved the texture of the photographs. The grain/noise had a lovely salt and pepper feel to it that really ensured a DNA match with the rodeo circuit and the bitumen of the road. I can almost feel the skin peeling from my nose as I graze the ground. Sensory overload. I felt a part of their lives and whats more we were introduced to moments of away from the circuit. This is no easy task as we have seen here before. We were given the whole picture and asked to make conclusions from there. This was illustrated through #8,10 (the group shots) and with later the more intimate shots around and inside the caravan. Photograph #4 was a standout for me, with the insects humming their sad dixie tunes above the cowboys. The use of flash was well controlled, in what would have been a difficult environment.

    The only photographs that I would have edited/replaced would have been #18 as it was too dark to know the context of the sitaution. And #19 was too blurry to make out the subject or what was going on in the overall scene. However, it could be argued that an overall sense of movement pervades the whole rodeo journey, hence the dizzying motion in this photograph. That was another thing that struck me about the essay was that the riders would be in a state of perpetual motion, (even if it was just a mental sensation) riding, dizzy after falling off, on the road, in the swaying caravans. Consequently, that larger sense of movement was well portrayed here.

    Anyway, congratulations on making it to the top ten. Things are heating up here again.

    “Because the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirious of everything at the same time, the ones that never yearn or say a common place thing…but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night”.
    (‘On the Road’, Jack Kerouac)

  • We don’t get much rodeo here in the Shenandoah Valley, but maybe once a year one will come though. I love shooting rodeo. As Jim said…they are “complex guys that project an image of God, County and gentlemanly conduct outwardly” Also some of the most polite people I have ever met.

    Lance you have really captured the gritty feel of rodeo. Excellent work. The book is going to rock!

    Coming to LOOK?

  • Dear Lance,

    I’m very happy to see your work in finalists. :)))

    Very nice work. :)))

  • Lance…Like when I saw Eric’s essay up here as a finalist, you’ve made my day my friend. You’ve done it too….EPF finalist 2 years on-the-trot. This is testament to your long-term dedication to this project. I’m really happy for you. Did you get my message a couple of weeks ago saying how much I was enjoying seeing this essay evolve? I think everyone, especially the old road trip people, are enjoying its evolution! Really good stuff mate.

  • Jan, you must have missed #20

  • I think this is the kind of essay, that gets its enrichment from the many angles you are able to project on it, which for starting with the camera angles, all end up delivering on the human side.

    At the same time, it is actually not so easy to identify with these people, as can happen with many subcultures. Maybe after all, we’d just love to be introduced to a few thanks to a few more classic, portrait work, outside of the action, stand still and take in a different kind of mood, as #4 invites us to.

    I do not think one can take it all its substance with a few viewing only, not to mention a screen that cannot compare with the printed page. One needs to remount and hold tight again, as looking at the images, one after another, is like being rocked from one side to another side on a bull itself.

    No doubt, this essay rocks, who’s to complain? Congrats, Lance!

  • I have to agree with Paul O’Mara’s critique in that it has a feeling of “being done” many times, and not really presenting any surprises about the characters involved, however that said, it is still done well. Someone commented that the women are presented just t&a but I see how it works in the series, everyone is really into living their self-image and being macho or sexy it’s all the same in the end.

    The composition in #4 and the bugs in the lights are a great detail. I think as a whole it could be edited more tightly, maybe down to about 18 photos, there are a few in there that didn’t move it forward for me.

  • Great picture story, some shots thrilling.
    Agree with some that this document and aproach is a old hat.
    But a 10-gallon hat at that.
    Most exciting story.
    Seems that everyone here knows eachother already. Or the finalists know the judges already.
    Also a bit old hat but I guess that is and will always be the business.

    Good Luck.

  • Lance! My man! I haven’t been checking in here too often of late, but I found out in an email from James last night that you had been named a finalist, so a big hug to you. I agree with the master, Andy Levin, that I too would love to see you go deeper with these guys and away from the ring. You’ve peaked our interest in Stretch’s life, but you REALLY did it and I want to know more. I hope winning the grant money can make that happen for you.

    Saludos a todos!

    So beautiful and strong!!!
    I really enjoyed every single shot.

  • What a powerful set of images!!! I’m aware that, as a Brit, I don’t really ‘get’ much of the cowboy iconography and significance that would be felt by many of Burn readership. I even lived in Texas for a year and I still didn’t get it… But… there is a visceral, felt content to these images that is hard for me to place. I’m fascinated, amazed, captivated, hooked. I still don’t get it but, wow, I don’t really care…! Great pictures.

  • LEO…

    nobody here knows the judges……some of these photographers know me, but i am not on the jury for final selection….and as quite a few photographers will tell you, knowing me does them no good when it comes to choosing pictures etc etc…


    you are not bound by the one comment rule…you may answer as many questions as you want…

  • nice lance…. very nice…. great to see you on here!


    Okay, Lance, where’s the smut, dammit? All I see is a bunch of dirty old cowboys and their girl friends. Nicely done, no two ways about it, but it’s no Debbie Does Dallas, that’s for damn sure.

  • Strong way of treating such common subject… I am curious to see when it go deeper if you win the grant!
    good luck man

  • Hard to believe Bambi is like, 54 year old now. ;)

  • lance

    great.. it’s been a long time brewing this story i guess and really happy for you that you’ve earn’t a placement for consideration. i think it’s difficult to work a style, particularly when flash is a requirement.. and you have style.


  • Lance,
    I nearly jumped out of my chair when i saw that first image of his face. This is a classic essay- the type that makes me want to run out and get snapping. it reminds me of why I first became a photographer…

    congratulations and keep on keeping on


  • Congrats Lance!
    Great essay! Coming from another culture where this kind of subjects are completely alien, I think I found these images even more powerful, they made me want to know more about the people and situations you so beautifully captured.

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