Leigh Ann Edmonds Portfolio Contest Winner

Words: David Best

“I like to see people connect to other people that they will probably never know or will never meet.”

Photo: Leigh Ann Edmonds Portfolio Contest Winner photo no. 1
Best Seat, Wilsonville, Alabama, 2020
“Photography is a force that I cannot ignore,” says Leigh Ann Edmonds. “I would loved to have had a somewhat normal life, because being a professional photographer is actually very hard work. And it’s harder today than ever, because photography is so accessible to everybody who owns a cell phone. For better or worse, I’m a photographer because I love adventure. I love exploring. And I love sharing my experiences with other people through my images.”

Edmonds grew up in rural Alabama, surrounded by horses. She drew them in her childhood and was a competitive rider as a young woman. This was also the time when she discovered photography, becoming the photographer for her high school yearbook. She started getting paying jobs at age 15, but was too shy to return calls for potential jobs. “I would have a hard time following up,” she remembers, “because I was always concerned that, what if they don’t like the work that I presented to them?”
Photo: Leigh Ann Edmonds Portfolio Contest Winner photo no. 2
Preparations, Wilsonville, Alabama, 2020
It wasn’t until she received a bachelor of arts in photography from the University of Alabama that she realized she was destined to follow her dreams. “When I started getting wedding jobs, and the money was so good, I said, ‘Okay. Don’t be stupid.’ I just had to face my fears and put myself out there. But I was still hesitant until I got my business license in 2006, and finally considered myself a full-time photographer. It was a long journey.”

Flash forward. Edmonds built a successful business in her community, but her photography had become a little too routine. Everyone wanted the same family photos—dressed in their casual best, out in nature, with the setting sun providing a golden backlight. “It was getting too cheesy for me. When you photograph portraits for people for 20 years, you can only do so much, and then you get bored with it, because it’s all sort of redundant. I needed something to light my fire again.”
Photo: Leigh Ann Edmonds Portfolio Contest Winner photo no. 3
Bronc Rider, Cullman, Alabama, 2020
The personal project presented here was just the ticket to get Edmonds’ photographic juices flowing again. It helped her reconnect her with her childhood years growing up around horses. Her hometown is still very rural, with horses still playing a large part in the social fabric of the community. “I call this series, Behind the Chute, which is a play on words,” Edmonds says. “The chute is a barrier that holds livestock in a gated area. I was standing behind the scenes where much of the action happens in a rodeo. Obviously, I’m also ‘shooting’ the pictures for this series.”

Her private project afforded Edmonds the opportunity to photograph again with worrying about what a client wanted, without needing approval for the pictures. It gave her renewed freedom to see things with her own sensibilities, without being scrutinized by a paying customer, shooting photos that had to be bright and colorful and crisp. Using black and white allowed her to concentrate better on her subjects, and shoot more intuitively.
Photo: Leigh Ann Edmonds Portfolio Contest Winner photo no. 4
Breakaway, Wilsonville, Alabama, 2020
Edmonds also wanted to depict a certain way of life that’s common in her world but not often seen by outsiders. “I like to see people connect to other people that they will probably never know or will never meet. We often have stereotypes about people that are not necessarily valid, and I find this especially true on the rodeo circuit. I’m also trying to educate people about portrait photography; that it doesn’t always have to be traditional, pretty and posed, in these bright, colorful, perfect moments.”

The photograph “Best Seat, Wilsonville” encapsulates this approach. Edmonds noticed this young rider just sitting and watching events at a rodeo unfold. “He’s a spectator on his horse, but what drew me to him was how casual he was, trusting his horse without even holding the reins. He’s just using it as his seat watching the sport. l just took one photo as I passed him by.
Photo: Leigh Ann Edmonds Portfolio Contest Winner photo no. 5
Waiting, Cullman, Alabama, 2020
“Later, his grandmother saw that image and personally contacted me, telling me this young man is a third-generation bull riding champion. The thing I’ve learned about these riders is that it is often a family tradition. It’s in their blood. I love making this connection doing the work I love. It’s things like this that interest me and keep me going.”

Fact File
Mt. Olive, Alabama
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