Derek Gafijczuk
PhD Student
Department of Sociology,
University of Alberta, Canada


URBAN COWBOYS is a series of photographs produced in collaboration with a group of people from Leicester, UK, who practise Country Western Dancing as a leisure pursuit. As well as photographing them at the venues where they meet and dance, I took pictures of them in and around their homes and asked them to comment on both aspects of their lives. This feedback was incorporated in the project.

The collaborative process of working with people I photographed seemed to justify the work itself, making image production less invasive. In another context, such photographs might be used for titillation or ridicule, but the co-operative terms of the project ensured that the dignity of the 'photographic subject' (itself an undignified term) was preserved.

In Urban Cowboys one finds an unusual sub-culture, behind which an older set is the driving force. There is a sense that the members of this sodality are questioning traditional roles and values at this time; certainly, the expectations of how middle aged and elderly people should behave and, in some sense, the importance of pre-existing locales for social interaction &emdash; the family home and the public house. These new modalities of expression privilege less restrained forms of behaviour, previously considered inappropriate, and suppressed or regulated by disciplinary norms since Victorian times.

The clothes, props and gestures, derived from another place and time (nineteenth century America), are self-consciously but gracefully recombined with native and contemporary materials and ideas. Some might consider this process of bricolage somehow inauthentic; I would prefer to suggest that it is the means through which identity is redefined and the regulatory structures of society are challenged.

Photograph Caption: Myra and Ashley, Leicestershire, England, 1997