In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Reno Rodeo, photojournalist Ty O’Neil decided to take a unique approach when documenting the ten-day event. O’Neil fitted his Canon 7D Mark II with a vintage Kodak lens from the 1930s, giving an old-world feel to the resulting photographs.
While O’Neil has experimented with fitting old lenses to his digital camera in the past, this was the first time he had a project where he felt this style would work well. Using a 1931 Kodak Rainbow Hawk-Eye Vest Pocket that belonged to a friend whose mother was a photojournalist in the early 1900s, he turned back time with this artistic look at the action of the rodeo. Of course, capturing these moments was not without its challenges.
Though the DSLR gave him the ability to capture and preview digital images, the use of the vintage lens required a lot of technical knowledge. “Being a baffled lens, I had to physically slide the lens forward and backward on its rails to achieve focus,” O’Neil tells My Modern Met. “The lens is also fairly dark and created a relatively slow shutter speed with a fixed f-stop of around 8 and a zoom of around 80mm. This meant I was trying to focus on humans and animals moving very fast with a slow shutter speed at a focal length I would almost never use at a Rodeo.”
Luckily, this was not O’Neil’s first rodeo. Previous experience in covering these type of events allowed him to understand what moments would work best within the limitations of his equipment. Within these constraints, he was able to produce a stunning portfolio that is not only artistic but also conveys the dynamism and energy of the Reno Rodeo.
The photographs, which were shot for a local news agency called ThisisReno, perfectly marry the historic tradition of rodeos with the modern era. In fact, rodeos themselves grew in popularity as early photography was also developing. As a symbol of the American West, these events continue to maintain an important place in many communities. While O’Neil’s role as a photojournalist means that his primary focus is to capture events exactly as they unfold, he hopes that this experiment inspires people to see the Reno Rodeo from a new perspective.