LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — In 2014, Jeremiah Ariaz was riding his motorcycle near Grosse Tete and encountered something he had never seen — a trail ride. About 50 African Americans, some dressed in cowboy boots and hats, were riding horses, playing music, cooking jambalaya and enjoying each other’s company.
Ariaz, a longtime photographer, began taking pictures and was invited to tag along. But questions were more on Ariaz’s mind than pictures.
“When people see that kind of procession in a public format, particularly in Louisiana, they think parades or Mardi Gras,” said Ariaz. “But this is happening for the participants. It really wasn’t for an audience.
“Because it happens for the riders is one of the reasons so few people know about it and one of the reasons I felt the photographs were so important. It’s a way to document and show this world to people outside of it.”
Araiaz’s photographs have turned into his first book, “Louisiana Trail Riders,” which was released this week on University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press. The 152-page collection contains 88 black-and-white photos taken during the photographer’s four-year journey on the trail ride circuit.
He captured scenes from rural rides in Calcasieu, St. Landry, Evangeline, Iberville, St. Martin, Iberia and other surrounding parishes. An essay by Alexandra Giancarlo explains the Creole cowboy tradition that morphed into modern-day, riding clubs that celebrate weekends with zydeco music, food, camping and horse competitions.
Ariaz worked to emphasize the family aspects of those rides into his photos.
“This is a way for generations of people to gather and get together,” said Ariaz, an associate professor of art at LSU. “I hadn’t seen anything like that on a regular basis, where you’d see multiple generations of families together.
“They were all part of the riding culture. The tradition was being passed down, from fathers teaching the young sons how to ride. I was really interested in that and wanted to highlight in the photographs.”
A native of Kansas, Ariaz has presented previous photographs at exhibits and speaking engagements across the country. He hopes the “Trail Riders” book helps to build bridges between cultures.
“I hope people see there are aspects of American life that they might be unaware of and have an increased sensitivity to.
“I can show these photographs to somebody in rural Kansas and they could immediately identify with somebody on a horse, somebody with their family or with their kids out on a Sunday. They can connect with that experience.
“I think that’s something that not very often shown in media or in pop culture. It might be a way to connect or to bridge and create some empathy.”