My work is shaped by my studio experiences and advertising background. I studied painting, not photography—Cézanne and Picasso were my first mentors. I was introduced to animal photography on a trip to the zoo with my art class. Years later, when shooting for annual reports, prospectuses, and architectural magazines, I returned to animal subjects by way of an ad project that involved a 20-foot python and a vulture. The animal handler mentioned that he also kept big cats, so I thought, “Why not get them into the studio.”
That was the first photography project I initiated. What I have found most exciting about working with animal subjects since then is the sense of mixing order and chaos, structure with ungovernable elements. Less Is MoreI have a passion for animals and a fascination with our tendency to project human values upon them. We have a unique partnership with horses, which is what makes them a great subject to explore.
My first images of horses, created before the Equus book project was under way, were taken in the studio with my Hasselblad ELX 553. When I began working on the book, I brought the studio outdoors, capturing my horse subjects in locations around the world. I’ve chosen some images from Equus to give you a preview of the book’s content.
• Section one features aesthetic representations of horses. Included is “Horse Mountain,” my first horse image—the one that made me realize the power of the subject. As I shot this photo, I was reminded of the famous phrase “Less is more,” by the architect Mies Van Der Rohe. I captured the image against a black velvet backdrop with my Hasselblad ELX 553, 150mm lens, Kodak Portra VC160, and Broncolor flash.
• Section two looks at the origins of the various breeds and their geographic roots. “Icelandic Lagoon,” shot in Jökulsárlón, Iceland, shows two Icelandic Horses negotiating the water at 10 p.m. during the extended daylight of summer. I used my H1D and 35mm lens.
• “Chestnut Window,” another section-two image, is a portrait of JJ Ballerina, an Arabian show horse, taken with my Hasselblad H1D and 100mm lens in Ajman, UAE. Taken from inside the stable, the photograph was lit with Profoto b2 packs and softboxes with Lighttools grids. The image looks out through her window to the desert landscape behind.
• “Mags Wildthing,” also in section two, was taken with my H1D and 150mm lens as we raced down a track at 30 mph in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in the early morning hours. We tracked the horse in tandem with an open-truck vehicle, aiming Profoto heads at the horse.
• The third and final section explores conceptual imagery. Here you’ll find the image “Equine Head Protector,” part of a 10-image series on masks worn by horses that reveals the horse’s supportive role in warfare, medicine, policing, racing, and showing—without including man—and the masks’ ambiguity. Taken with my H2D and 100mm lens in one of the royal yards in the UAE, the image shows a horse wearing a head protector while recovering after anesthesia.
For a photo shoot with animals to succeed, you need to ask the right questions of the people who know them best. It also helps to have an interest in animal behavior. For example, with horses, you don’t want to make sudden or unfamiliar movements or go around back because they need to have a sense of what’s going on. Surprisingly, flash lighting is less disruptive than you would imagine.
The Power of an H2D
I bought my first Hasselblad camera more than 20 years ago, three years into my career. A few years ago, after testing extensively, I bought the H1D because I decided that Hasselblad would be best positioned for future development because it controls the technology of the back and the camera. Recently, I invested in the H2D, so I keep the H1D in my safe should I want to shoot film with the new lenses.
One big jump up from the H1D to the H2D was less noise, which, I understand, has improved again with the H3D. Also important, particularly when photographing animals with a lot of fine hair, going from a 22- to a 39-megapixel camera was a significant improvement because there’s much less of a struggle with the pixels. When I make my 48x60-inch exhibition prints, the high megapixel count offers a huge advantage.
The H2D’s flash synchronized speed offers a powerful creative option. In contrast with other cameras, which have flash sync speeds that top out at 1/250 second, the H2D has a flash synch speed of 1/800 second plus a leaf shutter. Together they offer the most choices available for controlling flash and ambient light. My introduction to the Flexcolor software program came through my use of the Flextight 848 and 949 Hasselblad scanners.
When I moved to digital capture, my knowledge of the Flexcolor technology created a smooth transition and reinforced my confidence in the Hasselblad brand. Equus is scheduled for publication in October 2008. The launch will be supported by art exhibitions in London, New York, Melbourne, and Milan.
The book, measuring 28cmx35.5cm (11”x14”), will have 300 pages and l80 color and black-and-white images. English-language editions will be published by Abrams for the U.K. and the U.S., Australian and New Zealand editions by Hachette, an Italian edition by Contrasto, a French edition by Éditions de La Martinière, and a German edition by Knesebeck.
Technological developments have given us more choices and opportunities than ever before to realize our creative possibilities without becoming stymied by the process.
Text: Alice B. Miller