Fandom: Joe Hale
What happens when a sports photographer turns his lens to rodeo? Joe Hale chronicles his night at the rodeo and discusses capturing the essence of fandom in his work
Photography By Joe Hale
New York-based photographer Joe Hale is a huge sports fan, in particular running, so he is living his dream, photographing some of the world’s leading track and field athletes at major events. At just 23-years-old, Joe’s energy and sense of fun shines through in his reportage style images, and he is also a co-founder of Footstep Creative, an agency that brings together other young talent to work on projects who might otherwise have been overlooked. Joe tells us about his photographic journey, his experiences of fan culture in athletics and rodeo, and where he’s heading next.
Glorious: Do you consider yourself a fan of various sports?
Joe Hale: Definitely. I played just about every sport until it got to the level where kids would get cut. Baseball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, swimming, you name it, I did them. So, I’m originally from New York, which provides some helpful context. Throughout my life, I’ve always been a devoted fan of the Yankees – they’ve been my favourite team for as long as I can remember. Initially, I was primarily involved in baseball, playing the sport during my younger years. However, as I delved into running, I also developed a passion for professional running. It’s a more niche sport, which my friends jokingly referred to as ‘weird’ or ‘random.’
Glorious: When did you discover that you wanted to pursue a career in photography, and how did it begin?
Joe Hale: My photography career started in high school. I always liked cameras, I got a GoPro when I was about 13. I picked up a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera) for the first time at my friend’s cross country meet at Van Cortlandt Park junior year. (Little did I know I’d be living there only a few short years later). After taking photos at that meet, I really enjoyed it and kept borrowing my friend’s camera when he had it on loan for his photography class. Eventually, I got to save up enough money to buy my own – and the rest is history.
Glorious: You often feature female athletes in your work, why is that? Do you follow women’s sports and if so, which sports and why?
Joe Hale: For sure! The work I predominantly do is in running and track and field, and I have always enjoyed how there is far less gender separation than in other sports. In high school and college, we always practised with the girls’ team and I enjoyed that. Now as a photographer, it is really cool to photograph men’s and women’s races at the same competition. You don’t see that in other professsional sports. You either have a men’s competition or tournament, or women’s, never both. I often get more excited about shooting the women’s events, as I think that the biggest stars of the sport are women, such as Athing Mu, Faith Kipyegon, Sydney McLaughlin.
Glorious: Who is your favourite female athlete you’ve ever shot and why?
Joe Hale: Athing Mu – I used to work at the Armory which is an indoor track facility in New York City. I got to watch her beat up on girls in her local high school races, and now to watch her win NCAA, USA, Olympic, and world titles is incredible. It’s not every day that you get to see that. Shout out Athing, such a homie.
Glorious: We love your reportage style imagery which is often quite different to many other photographers capturing an event for instance. What attracted you to this style of photography?
Joe Hale: I’ve never really been a fan of the stock photo look that comes across most of the time in sports photography – it’s boring, and a lot of people could photograph it. I have this habit of carrying my trusty Fuji camera everywhere I go. If there’s anything interesting happening around me, I instinctively pull it out and start capturing moments. The inspiration for this came from a photographer I follow on Instagram, Jeremy Cohen. He’s also based in New York, and I noticed how he would attend various events in the city and capture the most incredible portraits. Often, it would be during street festivals or parades. I thought to myself, “That’s pretty cool. I should try doing that too.” So, I started venturing out, like going to the opening day of Yankee Stadium. It’s great fun and you meet some really crazy characters!
Glorious: When you take photographs, what do you want people to see and feel?
Joe Hale: Much of what I like about photos is the fun I have with the process – being able to experience cool events and meeting incredible people. That probably sounds quite self-centred, but if I’m having fun making the photos, I hope that process and energy comes across in the final product. I’ve never been the type of photographer to be absolutely obsessed with the technical side of taking photos. I try my best to follow the rules, but if the composition isn’t perfect at the end of the day – oh well. I think if people look and think a photo is cool, or makes them want to find out more about an event, brand, or person, that’s a job well done.
Glorious: You recently attended a rodeo and you shot some amazing images of fans, how did this come about?
Joe Hale: The reason we ended up at the rodeo is because my friends and I run a magazine called New Generation Track and Field, centred around the sport. Since they live in Eugene and attend the rodeo annually, we saw an opportunity to promote our publication by capturing images of individuals at the event holding up our magazine. That was the initial motive for my attendance, but once I arrived, I couldn’t help but notice the fascinating personalities present. I had my trusty Fuji point-and-shoot camera with me, and I quickly realised that I had the perfect chance to capture some compelling personal portraits.
Glorious: This was your first rodeo experience; can you describe the fan culture surrounding the sport?
Joe Hale: So, being there on 4th July really amplified the redneck spirit of the event. Honestly, I didn’t quite know what to expect when I arrived. I just tagged along, thinking it would be a fun outing. And once we got there, it became clear that many people were primarily there to get drunk, which is the fan culture of certain sports. The crowd consisted of a diverse mix of individuals, ranging from those wearing cowboy hats and boots to others representing the Lane County Republicans, who had a booth selling Maga apparel. The whole rodeo experience was undeniably wild and unpredictable.
Glorious: In your opinion, why do you consider fans to be such a crucial element in the world of sports?
Joe Hale: From a business standpoint, fans play a vital role as they provide support and without them, there would be no product to offer. They are the audience that ensures the survival of the sport. On a more emotional level, fans hold significant importance as they serve as a driving force for athletes. The exhilaration of performing in front of a roaring crowd motivates players day in and day out. In sports like running, where fan attendance may be less prominent, it’s the unique bonds formed between athletes and unexpected individuals that make it special. The act of running brings people together in ways that wouldn’t happen otherwise.
Glorious: Which images stood out to you as your favourites from the rodeo?
Joe Hale: As part of our magazine’s concept, we wanted to create a memorable shot for our Instagram carousel. So, we approached one of the stable owners and managed to capture an image of our magazine intentionally placed in horse poop. It was a unique and slightly unconventional shot that added an unexpected twist. Another favourite image was of a girl sitting in the stands. Despite the bustling spectacle happening around her, she was captivated by me and my camera and her intense fascination makes the photo intriguing.
Glorious: What’s next for Joe Hale?
Joe Hale: On the immediate radar, I’m off to athletic summer camps in August for a couple of weeks and then I’ll be travelling to Budapest for the World Athletics Championships. In the future, I’d love to photograph other sports like baseball and basketball, as I’m a big fan. I live two subway stops from the Yankee Stadium and regularly go to games. In terms of Footstep Creative, we’re at the point of trying to bring in as many talented young people our age onto projects, a bunch of 20 somethings that bigger brands or corporations would never even have on their radar. Hopefully we can keep landing projects that allow us to push the needle on work that younger people in the industry can produce. You might not need a rep, or 20 years of shooting to tackle projects with well-known companies. If you are a grinder like we are and share the same attitude and are crushing in your niche, we want to work with you.