American photographer Rory Doyle was announced as the winner of the fourth annual ZEISS Photography Award for his series Delta Hill Riders which focuses on the subculture of African-American cowboys and cowgirls in the rural Mississippi Delta.
Doyle claimed the top prize in a competition that included 58,000 entries from photographers across 150 countries at the Sony World Photography Awards. His collection included photos of cowboys riding horses across the frosted plains of the American Midwest and gently tending to their children and injured animals and passing on skills through generations. This year’s competition brief was ‘Seeing Beyond: The Unexpected’ and invited photographers to submit a series of five to 10 images that “look past the everyday and address something unforeseen and surprising.”
Doyle is based in Cleveland, Mississippi but is originally from Maine. His perspective as a newcomer inspired the Delta Hill Riders series, as well as a desire to shed light on a subject that’s been largely overlooked throughout history. “It’s estimated that just after the Civil War, one in four cowboys were African American. Yet this population was drastically underrepresented in popular accounts. And it is still,” said Doyle. “The ‘cowboy’ identity retains a strong presence in many contemporary black communities. My ongoing project about African American cowboys and cowgirls in the Mississippi Delta sheds light on an overlooked subculture – one that resists historical and present-day stereotypes.”
Doyle’s winning images are part of an ongoing series which has been shot across the Delta, challenging the stereotypes of cowboy culture and preconceptions of the rural South. He has deliberately broken the white ‘Lone Ranger,’ ‘John Wayne’ and ‘Marlboro Man’ stereotypes attached to the subject of cowboys with exceptional skill and warmth.
According to the photographer, the work fits in with the current political climate and the renewed focus on rural America, as well as a counter-narrative to the often negative portrayal of African Americans. “I feel like so many stories out of Mississippi are negative, and the truth is that there is a lot of hope and inspiration in Mississippi,” he told Lonely Planet Travel News. “This is a story about rural African American life where traditions are being passed down proudly through generations. It’s been the most heartwarming experience for me to be accepted by this community, and I know this is a project I will be engaged with for the rest of my life.”
Doyle’s winning works plus a selection of shortlisted images will be exhibited at Somerset House in London from 18 April – 6 May 2019, alongside an incredible collection of winning and shortlisted images from the Sony World Photography Awards.
You can see more of Rory Doyle’s work on Instagram here.