Lessons on Empathy, Wonder, and Bull Riding: The Ride of their Lives Opens in CCCG

If you tried entering the Crawford Campus Center Gallery on Tuesday afternoon, you probably would not have had much luck. Crowds of students and teachers packed the space, spilling out into the hallway to meet photographer Jonno Rattman and writer Burkhard Bilger.

Visiting campus for the opening of The Ride of Their Lives exhibition in the Crawford Campus Center Gallery, Rattman and Bilger discussed their December 2014 New Yorker piece of the same name with students, faculty, and members of the EA community.

The gallery show, which runs through December 10, features Rattman's portraits of rodeo enthusiasts from the 2014 Youth Bull Riding World Finals in Abilene, Texas. These richly layered images range from raucous action shots to quiet, poetic pieces.

It's this sentimentality, Rattman asserts, that separates his narrative pieces from pure photojournalism.

"I'm an artist who works as a photojournalist, and I'm a photojournalist who makes art," said Rattman after the reception. "In my pictures, I am trying to communicate what is interesting and newsworthy, but with emotional and psychological depth."

This message was reflected earlier in the day when Rattman visited Upper School students in Honors Photography. According to Maggie Mengel '17, the photographer paired technical lessons about using flash and available light with more overarching, humanistic themes.

"We talked a lot about perspective," she said. "[Rattman] explained that if he was from the West, what he would find interesting or beautiful about a particular moment might be totally different than what an outsider, or someone from another part of the world, might find interesting."

The black and white portraits that line the Crawford Campus Center Gallery walls are certainly composed by an interested outsider. However, they are anything but exploitative: while it would have been easy to approach the event as a campy spectacle, Rattman instead took great care in weaving a visual story that shows the heart of a uniquely American subculture.

It is no wonder that Rattman's passions for photography and printing are joined by anthropology and American studies. In fact, he credits his anthropological fieldwork as a student at New York University with building the fundamental human understanding that is at the core of his photography today.

"One of the most important things that I hope students take away from my work is empathy for others...to connect on a gut level with people who have different sets of life experiences, to meet in the middle, to not judge them."

A New York-based freelance photographer, Rattman's work has connected with diverse subjects ranging from celebrity-studded costume parties to lucha libre matches in the Bronx. While often monochromatic, his work tells a colorful story.

"Pictures can have real meaning and depth, and a quality that brings the viewer into the narrative," he explains. "I want my pictures to show not only what it looked like, but how it felt to be there. What it felt like to be amazed."

To the crowds of students engrossed in the photos on the walls, Rattman exceeded his goal.