Cowboys of the Rhône Valley

An Untamed Ride Through France’s Region of Bullfights and Broncos

The weathered faces, wide-brimmed hats and spurs of the gardians of the Camargue star in photographer Michael Hemy’s luminous series. Lying between the two arms of the Rhône, the salt flats of southern France have long been home to these European cowboys who, with their long tridents, herd black cattle through the marshes atop the iconic pale gray horses native to the region. The bulls are used for fighting in the arenas of the Course Camarguaise, and, much like in the American West, the local culture has given rise to a tradition of competitive riding. “You can definitely feel the Catalan influence here,” Hemy says, noting a lineage beyond the ancient Iberian roots of this breed of horse. “It feels almost Romany.” That character is reflected in the customs of the wetlands’ primary town, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which hosts an annual Gitan Pilgrimage where Catalan- and French-speaking gypsies gather each May for a festival that dates back to the 16th century. Hemy, who has shot for Vogue Homme and Louis Vuitton, chose to document these horsemen in the early morning sun. “I was keen to capture that soft, hazy, Terrence Malick light,” he explains.


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