By Lillian Landreth
The cowboy way worked its gritty charm on Dudley Barker, a United States Marine from Texas turned rodeo photographer in the 1970s. “I brought a camera back from Vietnam and had to move to Stephenville, where every cowboy in rodeo was living and rodeoing. Next thing I knew I started taking pictures, and 45 years later I made a business out of it.”
Raised on a ranch in Central Texas, Dudley was already familiar with the western way of life but cut his own path in rodeo photography. “I went and hung out in the arena. I didn’t have anyone to pattern myself after,” he recalls. “I’d get out and capture the action and run like hell. It must’ve been my Marine mentality, or I didn’t know any better.”
“It’s about timing. Period.”
When Dudley started photographing rodeos in 1976, he shot with film. Digital photography—let alone camera phones—was unheard of. If he timed it right with his flash, which had to recharge after each shot, he could get eight photos out of an eight-second ride. Dudley learned to look for the classic shot in each rodeo event, while also making note of the contestant and livestock. “It’s about timing. Period.”
With the vast opportunities of pro, college, and junior rodeos in Texas, Dudley didn’t travel out of state much at first. He received his PRCA Gold Card in 1980, and branched out to Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Wyoming, and eventually Las Vegas, Nevada, for the NFR. “I did 35 NFRs—that was my treat every year. Even though there might be eight photographers there, you might be the only one who got a certain shot. You had to nail it and be consistent, because everyone who nods their head is your client, and you have to make them look as good as possible—and hopefully they’ll buy it.” This also included late nights or early mornings shooting slack, where a competitor might win the rodeo, and Dudley didn’t want to miss the champion shot.
Award Winning Artistry
Dudley moved over to digital photography in 2001 and loved the ease of sending his photos via the internet, rather than mailing proofs out to associations. He officially retired from photography in 2021 but continues to receive invitations to photograph events. He is working to digitize some of his roughly three million negatives, among them historic shots of Lane Frost and many other world champions. His work captures friends and memories, an integral part of the sport. His eye for the art of rodeo earned him PRCA Photographer of the Year in 2009, and inductions into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, Central Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame, and All Cowboy & Arena Champions Hall of Fame.
“The cowboy way is to help your buddy. You might be pulling a rope for him or telling him what the stock does, because if you’re going to beat him, you want to beat him at his best, rather than try to cheat him. It’s the way cowboys are. They’ll do for each other and go out of their way to help you.”
To view more of Dudley’s work, visit dudleydoright.com, or his Facebook page, Dudley Barker Photography
About the Author
Lillian Landreth is a freelance writer and editor. She particularly enjoys writing about rodeo and the extraordinary people and animals who make the lifestyle fascinating. The author of more than 1,000 stories, her writing has appeared in the Rodeo News; The Ketchpen, published by the Rodeo Historical Society and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum; and local newspapers. She is also working on her first novel. When she’s not writing, Lily enjoys riding with the Snake River Stampeders night light drill team, coaching the EhCapa Bareback Riders, a PRCA specialty act, and teaching horseback riding lessons. She makes her home in Southwest Idaho with her entrepreneurial husband, their dog, horse, and cows.
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