Let ‘er Buck

Consider the riot of images the Rodeo evokes: Broncs – rearing out of a chute all belly and brass; Bulls – twisting bodies, slinging snot; Cowboys – rolled hat brims pulled low, spurs grazing over a horse’s shoulder.

Consider also a slim and elegant Vassar grad with a patrician profile and a Nikon camera turning dust and mud, hair and hide, sweat and try into works of art. Consider Louise Serpa.

Local author Jan Cleere offers a lively portrait of Serpa’s extraordinary life and career in her new biography, Never Don't Pay Attention: The Life of Rodeo Photographer Louise L. Serpa. A trailblazing photographer (though she would have been the first to refute that accolade) Serpa stepped out from behind the chutes and fences and into the action in 1963 when she received a Rodeo Cowboys Association accreditation to shoot photos inside the arena.

Subsequent broken ribs and a sternum that cracked when she was hooked and trampled by a charging bull did not deter her. Through time, miles and injuries, Serpa’s uncompromising priority was getting the shot.

And she did. Her photographs are widely exhibited in Western and fine art museums. She received awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Museum and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. In 1999 she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, where her first camera is displayed. And, probably most important to Serpa, she gained the cowboys’ respect and love from a lifetime of bringing an artist’s eye to a workingman’s sport.