From paddock to wall. Just what does "photographic fine art" involve for Black Colt?

FINE ART AND MY PHOTOGRAPHIC PROCESS

“In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular… sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.” – Ansel Adams

People often ask me what my photographic process involves. I, myself used to wonder what made fine art different from documentary or advertising photography and it is a fine line. After many years of photographing horses and until recently printing them myself I realised that it is, for me, about the intention of the photographer and his unique take on that visual in front of him when he presses the shutter. 

A sport photographer busting out...This is a throwback to shooting large competitions. Clearly I am breaking the rules of conformity here. A headless dressage rider at Grand Prix level simply isn't what the press needs. As I noticed my editing style getting more and more like this I knew it was time to break away from years of competitive shooting and become an artist. What interests me here its the aura of beauty and power of the horse, with that defiant flick of the tail to the music.

A sport photographer busting out...This is a throwback to shooting large competitions. Clearly I am breaking the rules of conformity here. A headless dressage rider at Grand Prix level simply isn't what the press needs. As I noticed my editing style getting more and more like this I knew it was time to break away from years of competitive shooting and become an artist. What interests me here its the aura of beauty and power of the horse, with that defiant flick of the tail to the music.

 

IN THE TRENCHES (THE SHOOT)

I have been out in a paddock with a herd of horses: sometimes for many hours at a time. Often the only thing that made me return to the farmhouse and then set out again was the limitations of how much memory I had on me, and of course the fact light can change everything, depending on the time of day. Then again I just might be absolutely ravenous after tramping around with heavy gear on 100 acres, and I have a pretty good feel for what I have shot without looking. To a point.. You do tend to know when you have the "money shot" or series of images. Of course it is hugely satisfying later that night, tired, sunburned but excited to see just what you captured that day and if it matches the visual in your mind. Sometimes it does and other times it doesn't. To me that isn't necessarily the most important thing. The next step is the editing phase and for me that is where the fun really begins.

THE FREEDOM OF CHOICE

One element of Fine Art to me is the fact that nobody commissioned me to do the work. I find this to be the ultimate luxury. I set out with the intention to create a body of work (or part thereof). I have an idea of what I want to say and I venture out knowing that of course things will be thrown up by the powers that be and I can choose to run with it or not. I love that. You can't really overplan when dealing with a herd of flight animals in a huge space. 

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Playing with tripod & shutter speed on vertiginous hills...

This was a classic example of things definitely not going to plan. I'd hurt my back. The mare and foal paddock was my crash landing for some hours

 

THE FIRST CULL AND SECOND CULL (CUT THE FLUFF!)

So the next part of the workflow is to go through the shots carefully and do a first edit. A few shoots in one day could amount to around 600-1000 photos. This could be much less if you are doing more time consuming work like experimental effects with a tripod and slow shutter speeds. These shots can totally fail or look amazing. You find that out later. 

This is when I eliminate all shots that are subpar. This could mean several things. From out of focus to plain boring, or perhaps because in that split second the horse/horses are caught in an unattractive movement. This is where I find it so advantageous to ride and have photographed/seen enough shows to know what those movements mean and how they can be harnessed to look beautiful, majestic or fit some other criteria. When you frame up your shot this is always in mind. Is their movement poetic or majestic in that moment. Of course the rules are there to be broken, but you need some understanding of Equus. So now I am down to a couple of hundred photos and I tend to leave them for a while after backing up everything (trust me I have made fatal mistakes there in the past).

THE MARINATION PHASE

After the marination stage as I like to call it I come back to the work for a further cull and some finer editing. In the meantime I have often travelled by country bus and flown home to Sydney and acclimatised at home. The images are in my mind but I pick up the daily routine and wait for a chance to get back to my work. At this point I know what I have and usually a good idea of where I am going with it.

Ok so this is me getting totally out of control and misbehaving right here. I can't say why I thought horses I shot in Italy should be immersed in Magnolias. I just did it and it felt great. I love shooting flowers and horses and in this case I loved the play on each. Shooting the Magnolias nearly got me arrested, and the Italy shoots are incredible memories. Why not bring them together. I love that you make your own rules. I made a series of 12 of these montages  last year, and am always surprised at how individuals respond to different works.  A  new monochrome series is in mind.

Ok so this is me getting totally out of control and misbehaving right here. I can't say why I thought horses I shot in Italy should be immersed in Magnolias. I just did it and it felt great. I love shooting flowers and horses and in this case I loved the play on each. Shooting the Magnolias nearly got me arrested, and the Italy shoots are incredible memories. Why not bring them together. I love that you make your own rules. I made a series of 12 of these montages  last year, and am always surprised at how individuals respond to different works.  A  new monochrome series is in mind.

 

FINAL EDITS

In my workflow this process is absolutely delicious. It thrills me as much as being out with the horses at dawn or dusk. Because this is the magic zone where anything is possible and a combination of factors come together. It can work two ways. One image doesn't work the way I thought it would and a whole new direction opens up. Mistakes are wonderful too. It's often when you are creating a montage or playing with an edit when a style or narrative emerges that suits a series of photographs, a pair or one standalone image. Years of practice, shooting, press rooms and playing around with software til 3am while my babies were sleeping have opened up more and more possibilities in creating my own brand of fine art. In a way it has simplified in one sense. Over the years I have learned that simplicity is beautiful. 

An Italian Anglo Arabian horse photographed in Italy. I love a savage crop where appropriate. Here I am interested in his aura of intensity by drawing the viewer to his eye, and the echo of his partner's ears out of focus behind. The print is toned slightly and is warmer than straight monochrome. Every print is dealt with on an individual basis.

An Italian Anglo Arabian horse photographed in Italy. I love a savage crop where appropriate. Here I am interested in his aura of intensity by drawing the viewer to his eye, and the echo of his partner's ears out of focus behind. The print is toned slightly and is warmer than straight monochrome. Every print is dealt with on an individual basis.

 

 

THE FINISHED PIECE

I want more for the viewer than to simply observe a moment frozen in time. I want the finished piece on the wall to evoke an emotional response. Everyone has their own narrative and this is why I shoot the horse in the landscape with no people to distract. The majority of my work was shot in Australia and Italy. Whether the viewer is obsessed with horses like I am, or totally disinterested, I hope and intend for the response to the body of work to be emotional and relatable on some level. If I can share some of majesty, intuition, playfulness, curiosity or affinity with another highly intelligent creature...well then I have done my best and maybe it is enough or more than enough for some.

 

 

 

 

A few elements are working for me here. I love shots from behind -ie a little voyeuristic. They were my Friesian babies so I wanted to honour them. When I first moved to the Adelaide Hills it took me time to fall in love with the burnt umbers and dry elements of high summer. Then I realised how beautiful this could be in monochrome. A reasonably straightforward shot, but with several choices made to present them in my own style.

A few elements are working for me here. I love shots from behind -ie a little voyeuristic. They were my Friesian babies so I wanted to honour them. When I first moved to the Adelaide Hills it took me time to fall in love with the burnt umbers and dry elements of high summer. Then I realised how beautiful this could be in monochrome. A reasonably straightforward shot, but with several choices made to present them in my own style.