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    Gallery Exhibit - Cowboys: East Germany

    Presented by and German-Texan Heritage Society at Texas Folklife

    January 12 - May 31, 2017


    Gallery Exhibit - Cowboys: East Germany

    Gallery Exhibit - Cowboys: East Germany
    January 12, 2017 -  April 14, 2017
    Texas Folklife Gallery
    1708 Houston St.
    Austin, TX 78756
    FREE Admission 

    Cowboys: East Germany, a unique visual anthropology exhibit created and curated by Eric O’Connell (MA Visual Anthropology)

    This exhibit was made possible in part by support from The German-Texan Heritage Society, The Texas Commission on the Arts with an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department, and Frank, Purveyors of Artisan Sausage.  Exhibition is courtesy of The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University. 

    Parking Information:
    Parking for the event is available in Texas Folklife's gravel driveway, on street immediately in front of building, and at Asterra Properties (located next door). Overflow parking available at Recycled Reads (5335 Burnet Rd). Please use spaces in the back or on the south side of the Recycled Reads building.

    The exhibit will be on display at the Texas Folklife Gallery from January 12, 2017 -  April 14, 2017. Texas Folklife Gallery hours are Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, and by appointment. Contact Texas Folklife at 512-441-9255 or email for more information.

    About the Exhibit, by Eric O’Connell: 

    Cowboys: East Germany examines the constructed identities and practices of the American Western cowboy and “cowboy lifestyle” as taken up and lived by the people of former East Germany. From 1961 to 1989, The Berlin Wall separates East Germany, the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), from West Germany, and on a global scale, physically demarcates the Cold War’s boundary separating the Communist East from the capitalist West. Developing behind “The Wall,” the idea of "cowboy" represents a type of freedom and individualism for East Germans, as imagined in the lifestyle of the cowboy. Emerging from the shadows of Communism, the adopted – and well-adapted – cowboy lifestyle reimagines the cowboy ethos as agency to hold on to what is seen as good from Communism and eschew the perceived ills of capitalism. Values the East German cowboys wish to retain and “bring over” from their communist past – like helping one’s neighbor, a non-materialist rural life, family values, and attachment to the land and working with animals – are reinterpreted as “cowboy” values from an imagined American West.


    In this series, which is part of a broader collection of portraits, documentary images, and a documentary film, I began with an older view camera, 4x5, similar to cameras that have been used to document the American frontier. Later, in 2016, with digital resolutions matching that of 4x5 film, I used a digital camera. Both formats reveal the rich details with which the cowboys authenticate and construct their identities. Documented as found, whether at a rodeo, other event, or at their homes, the cowboys present themselves as they are for the camera. Isolated from the environment, against a black background, the photo invites inspection and consideration of dress as part of constructed identity. In addition to a visual tool, the black background, isolating the subject, stands as a metaphor suggesting many of the subject’s experiences behind The Wall, and isolation from the West.


    Eric O’Connell is an Assistant Professor of photography and photojournalism at Northern Arizona University, holds an MA in visual anthropology (USC, 2010), and has worked and lived in New York City and Los Angeles as a commercial photographer for nearly 20 years. Having grown up in a ranching family in New Mexico, he is not only uniquely positioned to look at this subculture, but is also invested in this subject matter as a matter of fond personal experience.

    Gallery Exhibit Press Coverage:

    Cowboys & Indians Magazine

    KUT's Texas Standard Time - Interview with Eric O'Connell

    More information:

    Eric O'Connell:

    Wittliff Collections - Texas State University:

    German-Texan Heritage Society:

    Texas Folklife

    1708 Houston St
    Austin, TX 78756

    Full map and directions

    Admission Info:


    General Day and Time Info:

    The exhibit will be on display at the Texas Folklife Gallery from January 12, 2017 - May 31, 2017. Texas Folklife Gallery hours are Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, and by appointment. Contact Texas Folklife at 512-441-9255 or email (link sends e-mail) for more information.

    Phone: 512-441-9255

    Accessibility Information: Currently, no accessibility information is available for this event.

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