How the Art Happens - Barry Burk Calf Roper

August 21, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Barry Burk NFR Champion Calf Roper


Barry Burk NFR ChampionBarry Burk NFR ChampionWorld Champion Barry Burk ropes a calf at a southern Oklahoma rodeo.


It's been nearly 40 years ago since I worked for a daily newspaper. It was an exciting job and offered different challenges every single day. I wasn't a huge sports fan but I spent 2/3 of my time photographing football, wrestling, basketball, baseball, and every other sport a high school or college student might play. I even covered some rodeos.

As it turned out, one of the best calf ropers in the world at the time lived just down the road from me in Comanche, Oklahoma. His name is Barry Burk. I never really got to know Barry but he became the subject of a few photos for the Duncan Banner in those days.

At most calf roping events I liked to put myself and my cameras perpendicular to the gate and where the calf would usually run. This made focus a lot easier and I could usually just concentrate on the timing and the action. This approach put a big gap of space between the rider and the calf but I would usually get a decent photo. Sometimes the horse or the calf wouldn't even be in the shot. All the useable photos tended to look the same with a horse and rider, a long loop of rope, and a calf at the end of the rope.

At this particular roping event, I'm sure I made those same photos to guarantee I had a shot but I wanted something more, something different. So, I moved around opposite the gate so the action would be coming straight at me. This made focusing a lot harder. What should be in focus? The calf? The horse? The cowboy? Plus, this approach put a bunch of other cowboys in the background which can be pretty distracting. As my luck had it, Barry Burk was up next. Barry was the fastest roper I had ever seen. The way he and his horse worked together was amazing. If my memory is correct, he had his calf down and tied in under 5 seconds. Amazing! Lots of other ropers were chasing calves around for three times that.

The photo above is my all-time favorite rodeo photo. It has all the action and drama I was hoping for. The calf is running into the loop. The rope is looping through the air. The horse is in full-stop. Barry is out of the saddle and ready for action. The lettering on the bridle was an added bonus that completed the story. I don't even mind the cowboys in the background. Their faces express the fact that they just got beat by one of the best.

When working as a photojournalist it's always the goal to tell the whole story in a single photo. It's a goal we don't often achieve but it's worth working toward. This photo gets about as close to telling the whole story as any I have ever shot.





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Crested Butte, Colorado photographer, Dusty Demerson creates fine art photography displayed as prints and canvases and provides private photo tours in and around western Colorado.

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