Photographer Jeremiah Ariaz
Baton Rouge based photographer Jeremiah Ariaz exhibited his series “Louisiana Trail Riders” at Shindig this past August in Florence, Alabama, one of many artists who’ve shared their work at our annual fête. The images capture a black American subculture devoted to equestrian clubs rooted in family and tradition. Ariaz “stumbled across” the little-known riding clubs by sheer accident while cruising through the Louisiana countryside on his motorcycle. One ridealong was all it took to know he needed to tell their story through his lens. Jeremiah is currently exhibiting the photographs and working on a book project of the “Louisiana Trail Riders.”
The Journal talked with Jeremiah about this project and how he discovered Billy Reid as part of our pre-Shindig coverage. This story was originally slated for mid-August, but the devastating South Louisiana floods delayed the project. Fortunately, Jeremiah’s family and home are safe, and we were able to share his story.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Tell us about “Louisiana Trail Riders.”
The project documents a subculture I didn't know about, and one I think very few people do. It comes from a specific region of the state, in Southwest Louisiana, and stems from a Creole culture with a centuries-old black equestrian tradition.
One of the ways this culture is celebrated is through trail rides that happen on a weekly basis. Each Sunday, a trail ride is hosted by a different riding club somewhere in Southwest Louisiana.
The clubs have some really great names, just to give you a sense of them - the Crescent City Cowboys, the Buffalo Soldiers, the Stepping into Style Riding Club, the Zydeco Steppers, 5 Star Fillies, Thug Ridaz, Bad Azz Fillies, Midnight Riders, Louisiana Steppers - and like a motorcycle club, many wear their insignia on clothing such as a shirt or vest. It seems like every small community throughout the region has its own club.
Why steppers? That suggests a whole different subculture of its own.
I'm not positive on this. I would assume steppers is either a reference to horseriding or a dance. Zydeco music is integral to the rides. A DJ accompanies each ride playing music from the back of a pickup truck or a trailer with concert size speakers. The last ride I went on actually had a live band playing while pulled along on a flatbed trailer.
These [rides] are not really for an audience. They go down country roads rarely passing people. It’s one of the reasons I feel so grateful to have been welcomed along. The rides do a loop, ending where they began. At the conclusion, live zydeco bands play. It’s always a good time, and music and dance are a big part of the event.
How did you discover the trail riding clubs?
I stumbled on to my first ride outside a town called Grosse Tete, just west of the Mississippi. I was riding my motorcycle in the country on a small two-lane highway. A big group of trail riders came down the middle of the road. I pulled over for them to pass and took my camera from the saddlebag of my bike. I took a few photographs as they rode by. A gentleman named Henry, one of the riders toward the back of the group, asked me if I wanted to join the ride.
I pulled my motorcycle around and rode with them for probably five miles to where their ride was ending. This was where I got my first experience with the trail riders. When the ride ended, there was a big party. Henry introduced me to his friends. There was live music, people were racing on their horses, people were cooking food...It was a really festive atmosphere. When I left, somebody gave me a little xerox copy of handwritten instructions to find the next ride the following weekend.
How long did you work on the project?
It’s still ongoing, but I have been photographing the trail riders for about two years. I've gone to probably a dozen different locations. Sometimes they begin from stables in a town like Opelousas, or from someone’s land in the country. From what I can tell, they happen just about every week with one club hosting a ride annually.
The photographs suggest a strong family element as well.
Yeah. That's one of the things that I really love about it. The rides are a family event. I’ve tried to highlight that, especially with photographs of fathers teaching their sons to ride. For me, capturing the legacy of this tradition, the connection between generations, and the rituals being passed down is the most important aspect of the work.
How did you discover Billy Reid?
I first came across his store in Houston, Texas, maybe six years ago. I didn't know who he was, had never heard of him, and wandered in. The shop had a great vibe. It had white clapboard interior and reminded me of home. They had good music playing and I was offered a drink. The clothes were beautiful. They looked timeless, yet somehow I’d never seen anything quite like them. I bought a green corduroy Quail jacket that I still love.
Below are a selection of images by Jeremiah Ariaz from his series “Louisiana Trail Riders.”