Among the challenges for today’s documentary photographers is to tell the story of those who challenge the norms, and shed light on their everyday life. This year, the ZEISS Photography Award asked participants for their creative take on the brief of “The Unexpected” and produce a body of work with a strong, clear narrative. To this, Mississippi-based freelance photographer Rory Doyle responded with Delta Hill Riders; a poignant ongoing series on the vibrant yet overlooked community of African American cowboys in the rural Mississippi Delta.

Through this winning photo essay, Doyle doesn’t only introduce us to this unknown subculture in his hometown, he also challenges what we already know and expect when we speak of the cowboy subculture itself. “In America, the cowboy archetype is a heroic white figure — think John Wayne. But I felt there was a story to share here, one that embodies rural Mississippi, but also one that touches a history that reaches across our entire country.”

In our interview below, we asked Doyle for his thoughts on the competition, as well as his personal insights on the project itself.


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