Long ago, man domesticated and trained horses for both work and pleasure. Although in time, their use in today’s economy has been diminished by machines, we still have the pleasure of viewing their grace and beauty in various sports. Along with their powerful size and fluid movement, one can’t help but be drawn in by their soul-searching eyes. With that kind of compelling ‘bait’, this year I eagerly attended three different horse events: Jumping (Saugerties, NY), Polo (Brandywine, PA), Racing (Wilmington, DE).
First up, horse jumping…. I have never before been exposed to the immense size of these horses. The grace and power of being able to lift their weight and also a rider, seemed effortless. In order to prepare shooting the actual event, I used the warm up ring to time and find the right angles. The light in the competition ring was overhead and very challenging, as was finding the right position to try and keep out background clutter. The movement from one jump to the other was like anticipating a quiet storm. The approach was slow and calm but then a blast of power was emitted only to ease back into a methodical trot.
Next up the sport of Polo… not knowing the sport was the first hurdle, but the hardest was yet to come. I set out to find an engaging spectator, one whom I could ask questions. The questions just spilled out from this rookie… how do they score, which way does each team go, are their time limits etc? All were answered with a great sense of knowledge and pride by a duo I had accosted who were also proud parents to two of the riders. I found out the teams came from all over, even as far as Argentina, and when in the US they play in a circuit that takes them from the east to the west coast. My quest began when I tried to find the right combination of action and develop a personal connection. The easy part was the side to side, back and forth movement of the teams. The hard part, as usual in team sports, is to isolate the subject to get a unique connection with the sport and its participants.
Last, but not least was horse racing… not a betting man myself, I was befriended by one who does on a regular basis. I found out about the weight of jockeys and how it plays a part in what the horse carries. The horses also raced on dirt and an inside grass course. Getting a shot of the inside of the track took a lot of ‘up, down and under’ rail maneuvering. The riders, owners and horses seemed to have a connection when racing but when finished, I did not find a loving relationship or bond like in the previous venues. I believe this was in part due to the money being spent and the very high-strung nature of the horses. This was evident especially when they finished a race, as many horses just wanted to keep going. Timing was key to almost all shots here, as you would place yourself in one position for each race and compose frantically as they blew by.
An intimate connection to the horses was not achieved in these outings as I originally thought would happen. I believe this had to do with each being a viewer’s sport while the deeper connection would exist with the people who raised and trained them. For me this heart-felt, soul-searching event would have to happen at a later time when my interaction with these noble animals would not just be play but on a more personal level. As I viewed my pictures, the competitive-nature of this magnificent animal is apparent, but if you look more closely… you can get the feeling he is just ‘horsing around’ with us.
As a photographer, I seek out new places, people and creative concepts where ever I go. This could be overseas, in the US or, in most instances, very close to home. Living in a state forest has many pros, but one con would be that you have to drive just to get milk, let alone find a unique venue as in this post. Driving is not always just traffic and mindless waiting at lights. It can be a welcome activity after being in a classroom for five days. One such drive took me north along the Delaware river to a crossing point into PA, this crossing is made up of two towns… New Hope on the PA side and Lambertville on the Jersey side. While exploring the Jersey route, I came upon a very interesting structure, and after a closer inspection, found it to be a training facility for fencing. It was closed at that time but I took note of the high windows which I believed would let in enough light to shoot and possibly stop any action within. I waited a couple of months, while corresponding with the owner of the fencing company BCAF, and was delighted to be able to photographically document the following activities.
I made two visits to make sure the light and the fencers were well covered by my lens. The light inside was almost too bright at times, but the alternative would have been worse. Viewing the rhythm of this graceful sport took some time. Just trying to get into position so I could align the light with the fencers took some refining and adjusting. I quickly found the atmosphere both soothing yet explosive. The coaches and students worked very well together, so well in fact, that I could feel the mutual respect they displayed toward each other. All fencers’ faces were rendered almost emotionless because they were hidden by black mesh. I was very surprised that, with the right light and detailed processing afterward, these featureless combatants came alive. Their code of discipline, responsibility and respect, coupled with good sportsmanship, was evident throughout my visit. It was refreshing to see the bumping of elbows and the saluting of ones opponent when matches were completed. This for me was the essence of understanding sport and respect given to your adversary.
Without getting in too deep with the history of fencing, I would like to point out, what other athletic pastime can be portrayed as both an art form and sport? Something with this much discipline seems to both educate the mind as well as the body, therefore… it could never be viewed as pointless.
Englishtown, NJ was the site of a photo shoot that was done through a meet-up group called ‘Adventures in Photography’. Some people may wonder WHY a meet-up group? Well for me, working full-time and having family as a priority in my busy life…. the problem is, how do I fit in a big passion of mine… photography? The easy answer is to seek out different venues that will help me satisfy my camera ‘A.D.D.’ and yet fit into a hectic life. Groups like ‘Adventures in Photography’ feed my shooting appetite by offering different events and locales. The Tough Mudder Event was one I could not pass up. I feel you have to be a little curious, and at times adventurous, to fill the addictive jitters one gets when not shooting for extended periods of time. This event turned out to be a 7 course feast for the eyes and some other senses described below.
It takes a sense of humor above all to even think about participating. Most people competed in groups and this camaraderie was evident all around me as these herds of happy, wet, mud covered participants found their way through each obstacle. When you view the images, as I did many times during the editing process, my sense of taste was put on notice. TASTE you say… yes… just look at what they went through. Mud seemed to find its way everywhere. Taking these shots, hearing their groans and watching the different shades and textures of mud make its way into every orifice, stirred this curiosity. Happy to say I did not experience the taste, just witnessed the aftermath of facial contortions. The sights and sounds were non-stop, from leaping off platforms, to my favorite… crawling through ‘real’ electrified wires. What was very clear throughout this spectacle of self-torture, was a constant hand given to help and encourage anyone with or behind them.
In my mind you would have to be very adventurous, a lil’ crazy, have a great sense of humor, while a low sense of taste and smell would be helpful. Most of all, you would have to be one tough mudder… or at the very least, have one who will drag you through all the obstacles.
Having shot quad racers (4 wheels) earlier in the year, I decided to go back and see what the two-wheeled version could do for me. I expected to see high-flying, dust kicking, ear-piercing drama and I was not disappointed. While I had all of that and then some, to my surprise what started to evolve was quite the opposite.
I made my way around the track and shot the races as they unfolded in front of my lens. Making sure to watch the light and to time the action at various points in my journey. Seeing and capturing the events was exciting and yet very familiar. What intrigued me most this time around was the personal side of the participants. By stopping and slowing down my usual fast paced sport shooting, I revealed to both myself and my camera, another side of this sport. While talking with and really getting in touch with the competitors, a new visual of this venue started to emerge.
To see how involved the parents were, especially with the younger riders, gave me an inside perspective I did not expect to find. The way every group of families interacted with their children reminded me of how my parents helped me develop a sense of participation, respect and love for a sport. The coaching, strategy and sometimes tears where all brought back from what seemed like a not so distant memory.
After developing and working with the images for this blog, I was very happy to rediscover a kind of solace that still exists in the world around us. My humanity was refreshed by just seeing the faces and camaraderie present at this motocross event. We normally do not associate sensitivity and heartfelt touching moments with a motorcycle race.
I will let you in on a secret…. I did !!!!
Drove up to Wallkill, NY for a photo shoot with the Ridgewood Meetup Group. It was organized by Martin Joffee and run by Mark Lasser. Our group would be shooting “quads”… four-wheel motorcycles at the Waldon Motocross Track. Usually when I think about MX racing I envision the 2 wheeled variety of bikes, but these riders left nothing to the imagination. They were just as fast and high-flying as their speedy cousins.
I had access to the whole course, which could be seen in its entirety from the entrance. At first glance it appeared very hilly and there was a lot of dirt…. I mean, dusty, muddy, loose, clumpy… you name it and I stepped and even tasted it, because when these riders get going they can really move that dirt around. It took a while to find the right vantage points for each jump, bump and turn and to also get my timing down. There is always a lot of trial and error when shooting any fast event, lucky for me they do it over and over again. The engine sounds would give you a clue to how fast and then how high they would launch from one of the many hills. The problem I came across was trying to figure out where they would land and then be in position to capture it. When covering an event like this, finding and waiting for the action to appear is essential. You need patience and a certain amount of luck. You also need to be very conscious that ‘what goes up, must come down’. The fact is it seems to not be an exact science with MX racers. Just as my photo adrenaline kicked in, so does their competition gear, and sometimes it got stuck in high. Some landings were as graceful as a dancer and other times you just wanted to look away. I was struck by how fast these four-wheeled bikes could go and by the end of the day, also how loud they could be.
My ears were ringing and I am still cleaning the dust and mud off my equipment but… ya gotta love the atmosphere, and for me the end product… pics that emoted the sound (loud)… the pace (fast)… and the taste (dirty) !!!!!