Photo Essay

  • A rider is thrown off his horse at Sidney Iowa’s annual rodeo, which local sources claim is one of the largest in the world.
  • The rodeo in Sidney, Iowa, has a long history stretching back to 1923. The event includes a range of activities for young and old, including mechanical bull rides. 
  • A quiet moment: A rider prays before competing in the Sidney, Iowa, rodeo.
  • The Rodeo Queen gets a moment in the spotlight as she’s interviewed on the grounds of the Sidney, Iowa, rodeo. 
  • A young woman takes a smoke break while framed by Iowa’s flat, green landscape.
  • Stacks of chairs for rent are stacked on the grounds of the Sidney, Iowa, rodeo.
  • A young rodeo attendee take a horseback ride to the campgrounds, where people stay during the annual event.
  • A rider waits to mount his horse in the chute before competing at the Sidney, Iowa, rodeo.
  • Two young cowboys take a break from working at the rodeo.
  • A cowboy at the Sidney, Iowa, rodeo rides after a bull as a crowd watches on.
  • Get ‘em started young: Kids enjoy a supervised pony ride at the Sidney, Iowa, fairgrounds.
  • A young cowboy takes a moment to pray before his ride.
  • The 2009 Miss Sidney Iowa Rodeo poses for a photo.
  • Legionnaires get ready to march in the opening parade, which kicks off the rodeo in Sidney, Iowa.
  • A rider prepares for the town’s opening day parade, which is the first event of the rodeo.
  • An event at the Iowa fairgrounds wouldn’t be complete with out a wide selection of desserts.
  • Those attending the annual rodeo in Sidney, Iowa, can celebrate after dark at an after hours bar.
  • A cowboy at the rodeo limbers up using a conveniently placed stairwell.
  • The tiny Iowa town of Sidney, about an hour southeast of Omaha, Nebraska, has a population of approximately 1,500, but during the rodeo it hosts more than 38,000 visitors.
  • The Sidney, Iowa, rodeo is held each year in late July or early August. 
  • The rodeo also brings in more traditional fairgrounds activities like rides.
  • A cowboy leaves the rodeo. The population of the town, normally less than 1,500, can swell to more than 38,000 during the annual rodeo, which is one of the largest in the country.
  •  A cowboy is photographed right after his bull ride.
  • Horses saddled and ready to go during the annual rodeo in Sidney, Iowa.
  • Scenes from the rodeo: A salesman hawks his wares and a young couple shares an intimate moment.
  • Two sharply dressed young boys work in the pens at the rodeo.
  • A mounted rider launches straight out of the chute at the Sidney, Iowa, rodeo.
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Saddle up: Inside America's heartland

Updated

The 4th of July is an ideal time for a good old-fashioned American rodeo.

Photographer JJ Sulin grew up in Chicago, where he had no experience of rodeo culture. But after his wife told him about the rodeo held every year in her hometown of Sidney, Iowa — aka “Rodeo Town, USA” — Sulin says he became “slightly obsessed.” So for four straight summers, Sulin visited Sidney’s rodeo, and captured what he saw.

Sulin, who lives in Brooklyn, realized early on that he didn’t quite fit in. “In my first visit to the rodeo my outsider status was never more apparent than when two young boys hesitantly approached to tell me I had my cowboy hat on backwards,” he said. “Had to wear one — there is a dress code for anyone that is working behind the scenes. It was my first purchase on the fair grounds.”

But being an outsider may have helped him see his subject with fresh eyes. “The images are a result of me looking for connection between the participants, the town and the animals of the rodeo,” Sulin said. “I’m fascinated with the connections within the small town and rodeo culture.”

So as you get set for the 4th, enjoy these beautiful shots of a quintessential American experience.

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography