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31 May 2010

Robert Owen Campbell, at ISO 10,000!!

Last night we watched a band, Robert Owen Campbell. I had the camera in the car, so approached the lead member "Owen", to see whether he minded me photographing him. Happily he agreed. They were indoors, just at a local club, without any other lighting. I didn't want to use flash, as it is intrusive and tends to blow out, and really wanted to use the available light, which after all, is my forte.

It was the first time I had really tried the higher ISO range of the D3s, as I'm very suspicious of 'noise'. These images are taken at f2.8, the maximum shutter was about 1/125th, and the ISO range was between 6,400 and 10,000. I used all three lenses I typically work with (ok, the 500mm had stayed at home, it is a specialist lens), which is the 300mm, 70-200mm and the 24-70mm (all are the f2.8 versions). Nikon are right. This camera makes the impossible possible. It is indeed my friend and ally.

The band was terrific. We had the kids down there, for dinner, and Heath, who is very musical, was enraptured by Owen, who was kind enough to let him help pack up his guitars. Jessica stole the show on the 'dance floor'. And Heath took home an autographed copy of the CD, which he proceeded to listen to about 4 times in bed that evening. I think he has found a new hero.

20 May 2010

The "Horse Mad Girl" and Racing.

The subject of this post is one that concerns me greatly. I often wonder where the future generation of horse racing lovers will come from. This post involves much scrolling down. Please humour my indulgence of the many images I have populated it with, because these images serve a point.

Takeover Target. Pictured in his breakthrough G1 win.

My point? How does Racing attract the Horse Mad Girl ("HMG")? Or boy?! I admit, probably due to my own experiences, that there is a little bit of sexism in assuming the Girl!!

Apache Cat. 2009 Moir Stakes

How does the Racing Industry ensure that a Racehorse will become the HMG's favourite horse 'out there', instead of say a dressage, three day eventer, or showjumper? What steps is the Racing Industry doing to make sure that the HMG's favourite horse become a Sunline, Takeover Target, Makybe Diva, etc, instead of a Regardez Moi, Donnerhall, Rubenstein, Sandro Hit (who some Racing folk may not know are a champion dressage stallions)?

So You Think. 2009 Gloaming Stakes

I would say that the Racing Industry, as a whole, is doing very little to ensure this. The current trend is to turn racetracks into environments resembling a nightclub. We want young people there, but in reality, they are just there to drink, to dress up (NO problem with that part), and and because it is presently quite 'fashionable' to go to the big race days. I tend to think, however, that the vast majority of this group wouldn't be seen dead on a track at most other times of the year. The problem is, this fickle audience could not give a hoot about the horses, or the sport. They don't even watch it. But it is the feats of great horses that lead to full front pages of major daily newspapers being devoted to horse racing!

The Mighty Champion Sunline.
2000 WS Cox Plate.

I was the quintessential HMG (just ask my sister). I began following horse racing at quite a young age because my uncle Murray, who lived in Melbourne, had two books in his library, called "The Caulfield Cup", and "The Melbourne Cup". Both were written by Maurice Cavanagh. During each visit to Melbourne, both of these books found their way to my bedroom (and house, as he so kindly lent them to me on fairly generous long term loans!). From these books, I memorised every winner of both Cups, and they did become essential reading. The attraction was clear! In a house (Murray's) that was largely devoid of horses, here were two books that were, basically, about horses! And if a book didn't involve a horse, I didn't read it!!!

Lonhro. 2003 Queen Elizabeth Stakes

But it was NOT the races themselves that led this particular HMG down the path I followed. Without a favourite horse, the interest in Racing would not have become a passion. I'd have gone back to books like "The Black Stallion", "The Silver Brumby", "Devil to Ride". The first book series was mostly about racehorses, although in a weird, magical sort of way, because of course the Black Stallion himself, "The Black" was an Arabian stallion. And a huge one at that, 17 hands or more if you read the description of him. And he was the FASTEST horse in the world! Now proper horse people know that a pure Arabian horse are (1) not huge, and (2) will never be the fastest horse in the world! But it didn't matter, because for me, it conjured up this image of this fantastically fast, incredibly huge, and amazingly gorgeous horse! A black one, no less! I am still obsessed with the black horse!

The Great Mare Makybe Diva.
2005 Melbourne Cup

There were two Australian racehorses I fell in love with. Phar Lap and Kingston Town. Every trip to Melbourne involved the obligatory trip to the Melbourne Museum. In a nice twist my aunt now works there! I still visit the horse, where I talk quietly to him, and still get tears in my eyes. I cannot watch "Phar Lap" (the movie) without crying. Indeed my kids cry at this scene. I remember standing outside the movie theatre, with great seriousness and impatience, when the movie was released. On my last visit to the Museum, during last year's Melbourne Cup Carnival, I went along with my aunt and two unruly children. I think she sensed my need to be with the horse, so as my kids quickly got bored (no bloody respect!) she quietly led them away, saying something like "I'll leave you with him".

Dear Mummify. 2003 Caulfield Cup

The second horse that led me well and truly into the world of horse racing was Kingston Town. I grew up in Canberra. It is hardly the horse racing capital of Australia, although it is a great place for a HMG to live. It has a large horse owning population, and a thriving equestrian industry, but I would say it has very few Racing followers.

A mighty sprinter. Gold Edition at Trackwork

My fascination with Kingston Town, and therefore Racing in the modern era, began with my discovery of the 1980 "Turf Monthly" Annual magazine, in January 1981, which I found in a newsagent in Bateman's Bay. We used to holiday in nearby Broulee and on a trip into the Bay, I wandered into this newsagent, and found the magazine. I was transfixed and couldn't keep my head out of it. Gracing the front cover, quite rightly, full page and in glorious colour, was the black horse, Kingston Town. And there were more photographs inside! I followed his career faithfully from that moment on, and despite the fact that we will only ever call into Bateman's Bay for a quick visit when staying somewhere else, I still have fond memories of the town for this very reason.

"The Fighting Tiger".
Northerly. 2002 Caulfield Cup.

I dropped off racing after The King's retirement. Not completely, but I think the heart ache of his many injuries and time on the sidelines, then eventual retirement, was too much for me to bear. Plus, I can't help it, I'm a loyal sort of person, and I greatly resented the way journalists would frequently write 'better than Kingston Town' about every horse that rose to the top of the pile. To which I would shout indignantly at the words 'no he/she bloody well isn't!!!!!'. I remember horses like Best Western, Sir Dapper, Emancipation, Strawberry Road, Red Anchor, etc, all fine horses in their own right, being compared to The King. They were very good even great horses. But they weren't him, and they weren't as good.

Might and Power. 1997 Caulfield Cup.

I didn't have a horse of my own to care for and ride on a daily basis (my terribly behaved ex-racehorse, by that stage, was quite rightly in retirement!). So the cure for the much needed horse fix? My Dad, and other family members, combined to buy me my first camera as a 21st Birthday present. Then on a spur of the moment decision, I decided I was finally going to go to the 1992 Cox Plate, the place of all that Kingston Town worship! So up we drove, and while my camera froze completely during Super Impose's win (expletive, expletive, expletive), I did produce a very good image of Schillaci winning the Moir Stakes (the very race that the mighty Manikato won, on that very special day in 1983). Like a moth drawn to the flame, I mark that day as the beginning of the road I journeyed down to eventually become a professional horse racing photographer. My first camera was a Nikon F401, the bottom level SLR of it's time. It had many limitations, but was such a great start, and it paved the way for the gradual moving up the line of the many wonderful Nikon cameras I have shared a friendship with, all the way to my treasured D3s, which is my great friend and ally.

The great horse Saintly. 1996 Melbourne Cup.

So what's my point? It is this. Print publications are dying, and what used to be an editorial market that sustained quite a number of photographers has collapsed inwards. Racing does not promote the horse itself, yet the love of a great horse is an enduring one, and is a proven success formula. Being a racing photographer is financially a tough gig. And yet we are the ones charged with the responsibility of preserving the memory of great horses, and we have such an important role to play in the guiding of future HMGs to chose a favourite horse.

Current pin-up mare Typhoon Tracy.

How is the HMG to find that glossy magazine, with a famous and beautiful racehorse gracing the cover (taken by me I hope!), that she will instantly fall about in pitying tones and successfully beg her parent(s) to buy it?????? After which she would faithfully and carefully carry it home, and read it from cover to cover. Pour over it again and again, making the pages dog-eared in the process. And eventually make painstaking decisions about which colourful photograph she put up on her walls, and/or in her scrapbook?

Pompeii Ruler. Immensely popular.

Why doesn't each horse mad person has a favourite racehorse? Why do raceclubs insist on publishing images of a ditzy woman on the cover of its racebook? One year (shame on them) the MVRC even did this on the Cox Plate racebook! For the Race where Legends are Made no less!!!!!!

Sprint Queen Miss Andretti.
She took on Royal Ascot and beat them!

Why is there now only one 'proper' racing magazine to be found in newsagents, where kids can see it (ie - in the equestrian/horse section of the magazine stands)? Sadly, Racetrack Magazine now comes out only 4 times a year. 4 issues!!!! When I fell in love with Kingston Town it was monthly, as was Turf Monthly, the magazine responsible for my infatuation (remember I'd never heard of the horse before this!). Tragically Turf Monthly no longer exists, and no other magazine has stepped in to take its place.

The tough and brilliant Elvstreom

I realise that the Internet has changed things, but there should be a place, for the publication of images in a tangible form, that can be poured over and over and over. There are increasing concerns over the safety of the Internet, and certainly I will not ever let my kids have unfettered use of it. There are problems with download speeds, etc, when it comes to online publications. All of these things make me believe that printed publication still has a future. It is fantastic to be able to read news online. But many people still like to sit down in their chair after dinner, etc, and flick through a magazine of their choice.

Lonhro's boy, Denman. He's a smashing type!

I think the Racing Industry as a whole should view the creation of a the kind of specialist magazine as I describe as an essential marketing tool. It shouldn't matter if it turns a profit. The Racing Industry itself should produce such a magazine, and view it's cost as such, as an expense, just as it does it's electricity and phone bills. Yes, as a photographer, there is self interest here, but there is the greater good involved! It's about promoting the horse, and getting into the minds of those HMGs. And doing so will also promote the industry as a whole, and the people who work within it.

Hot Danish.
Darling of the Sydney tracks.

And yes, I'm putting my hand up to be involved in such a magazine's production!

Theseo. A warhorse.

I want to return the Racehorse to its glory days, and to make people want to see the horse, both the racehorse and the thoroughbred stallion. I want them to know more about the horse, to make great horses instantly recognisable, and popular, and to create a following, that might just begin with a HMG!

The black horse, who is one of 'my boys', More Than Ready.
I photograph him for Vinery Australia. My love, my darling!

I have just decided that I am not being sexist using the term "Horse Mad GIRL". My 8 year old son has just announced that he doesn't want to do horse riding lessons anymore. I am so disappointed! I don't understand!!!! Please let my daughter, currently 5, who comes up and says "Mummy, I know who that horse is, he's More Than Ready", not do the same thing!!!!! I am trying to console myself by the fact that the fairly considerable money that I would have been spending on his riding lessons can be spent on my own mare. But it's not working very well!

Joining the Rest of the World

After many years of sticking my head in the sand, which has involved starting, stopping, starting again, then forgetting my username, AND my password, getting frustrated and giving up, I have FINALLY managed to create my Blog.

This has all come about because of a realisation that, if I am to be a success full time as a photographer, I need to get more serious about many things! Which, alas, also means keeping up with forms of communication I've previously put in my 'too hard' tray, or my 'I refuse to participate' tray (ie - Twitter).

So here goes...

I have previously only read other blogs, primarily that of my sister, and am under no illusions that this will be an instant success, or that I will be able to emulate her effortless writing, which is funny, poignant, and just good value. I also have absolutely no idea how to use everything, so will probably be gnashing my teeth, feeling unhappy with the finished product, but I guess I will improve with time.

For those who don't know me, I am a professional photographer. I have been full time, professional, since 2009. Prior to that, I was one of the many photographers, who as struggling artists, maintain a full time (proper) job that pays the bills (for me, it was working for CSIRO), and photographing professionally on a part time basis.

The decision to go full time as a photographer was made for me, when CSIRO made my job redundant in December 2008. Much to the angst of my father, who's made a very successful career working at CSIRO, I didn't fight the redundancy. I had several reasons.

First and foremost was that my heart just wasn't in it. CSIRO is a fine institution, and I believe in it's cause, but let's face it, it is a horseless desert.... Second, I didn't want to work full time, because my kids are too young, and while CSIRO says it's family friendly, my experience was that it was sadly lacking. All the good jobs are full time, and there is all sort of pressure put on you when part time if you kids get sick, which they inevitably do. My situation was slightly more complicated by our first child developing type 1 diabetes at only 18 months of age, so he would get sick quite a lot. And third, and finally, I didn't want to look back in later years, and think 'this was my big chance at greatness, and I didn't have the guts to go for it'. I am not like my father, who's somewhat of a legend at CSIRO, and would never have achieved greatness there, but as a photographer, I feel I have a fighting chance.

So I closed my eyes and dove in. I specialise in thoroughbreds and horse racing photography. The business has been going quite well, and expanding quite nicely, although it's difficult to become fully immersed in the industry when stuck in Canberra. I travel a lot, and this places all sorts of stresses and strains at home. And it is tiring, but it's part of my heart and soul, and at present, the racetrack is not an area of work I am ready to let go.

However I have been lucky enough to begin venturing into a more commercial world, where I have been working for some of the very large thoroughbred studs, such as Darley Australia, Vinery Australia, and Arrowfield Stud, and it is this work that is becoming my real passion and the core financial part of my business.

The editorial world, at least for a specialist racing photographer, has collapsed in the past 6 or so years. Many of the old magazines have folded as one by one their financial collapse became inevitable. The Internet has surged, but no one wants to pay for images. And as a photographer with significant capital investment and reasonably high travel costs, that's a problem! So the change in direction has saved my business, and kept me afloat. That said, you are only ever as good as your last shoot, and there is no such thing as a sure thing in this industry.

I am realistic enough to realise though, that I need to develop more business here in Canberra. So I'm putting feelers out in the equestrian industry, and doing some sports as well. I'm in the middle of a big website upgrade, which causes all sorts of headaches (I'm an artist, not a technical person!!!!), which is beginning to come together. And I've been taking my camera out with me more. Autumn in Canberra is lovely, and we are having such lovely weather at the moment. I walked out to pick up the kids yesterday afternoon in a hurry, and left the camera bag inside the door. Naturally, with my camera sitting feeling lonely at home, there were king parrots, rosellas, fabulous colours and the light was gorgeous. And all I could do was think of how I would have taken the images had I actually brought the bloody thing along!

I did keep myself busy, while the kids played in the playground (we went to the 'Drainpark' at Commonwealth Park), I began writing lists of all the things that I need to do to my website, the books I need to complete and publish (not to mention the dreaded bookwork thing, the end of the financial year gallops closer). I did also finally put to paper some of the ideas I have been throwing around in my head, for a class that I may begin teaching at our local Primary School. The principal wants me to think about teaching the 5/6s, which is both daunting and exciting, about photography.