Compton Youth Thrives Through Equestrianism in Striking New Photo Series

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Photo by Melodie McDaniel

 

A slightly familiar group of celebs, influencers, and members of the art world recently converged on Space 15 Twenty in Los Angeles for a slightly less than familiar cultural experience – as photographer Melodie McDaniel unveiled her latest series, Daring to Claim the Sky.

Curated by Audrey Landreth, the exhibit of 36 black-and-white prints offers a compelling subject with strong emotional depth: it tells a familiar story of the black experience in America through a unique perspective, that of a youth equestrian program in the urban setting of Compton.

Founded by Mayisha Akbar in 1988, the Compton Jr. Posse operates with the mission of “keeping kids on horses and off the streets.” The community’s youth are not only taught how to ride, but how to care for their horses. It ultimately instills a sense of self esteem, responsibility, and discipline in its young members.

 

Photo by Melodie McDaniel

 

“We wanted to show the photos that really do evoke a feeling,” Landreth said of curating the exhibit. “And that feeling is one of empowerment and pride. It’s sort of this ethereal inspiration, and it kind of transcends any sort of specific time. It becomes a timeless feeling, which I love.”

The images seem to depict the kids developing a spiritual connection with their horses, with complementing black-and-white footage of the same kids and horses trotting through the streets of their neighborhood. Some photos depict the children flipping their braids with the same spirit and pride of their animals tossing their manes. One shows a kid grooming his horse, which further expresses that mutual pride.

The contrast in the series is staggeringly beautiful, depicting an intersectionality of racial experiences. In one photo, a young man is dressed in classic white equestrian uniform, standing with his horse. In the next, another dons an open denim jacket, accentuating his tattoos, while standing in a similar pose with his own horse.

Another particularly powerful image features a black girl on horseback at a competition, cutting her eyes at a white girl on the horse next to her. With one facial expression, it exemplifies a unique racial divide in a way that words really can’t.

“It shows an African American girl and a white girl competing together,” McDaniel said. “Which you don’t see. There’s something about this that moves me.”

 

Photo by Melodie McDaniel

 

McDaniel spent three years shadowing the children of the program, attending competitions and visiting them in the stables, as well as at home. She developed a unique bond with them, which comes across as a sense of innocent vulnerability in the photos.

“There’s a therapeutic connection,” McDaniel explained. “They all ride their one horse that they are connected to, and it’s amazing to watch the process of them nurturing them, cleaning them, grooming them. It’s a lot of work, and they respect that too. They learn a lot of skills by going through that process.”

McDaniel was introduced to the program by friend, Amelia Fleetwood. The latter also spent time with the children, compiling interviews to run with the photos in an upcoming book. They help tell the story so beautifully illustrated by McDaniel’s photos.

“Their overwhelming tie that they kind of all shared was that when they’re on a horse, all their troubles sort of melt away,” says Fleetwood. “And they feel a sense of freedom, they feel like they’re flying. Really, every single kid had a beautiful description of how they felt in their soul.”

At the essence of McDaniel’s culminating body of work is a depiction of black youth thriving in a typically whitewashed activity. It’s a beautifully documented piece of culture that contributes a unique perspective on our society’s ever-evolving racial narrative.

See more at Melodie McDaniel’s website.