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05 September 2017

Defining what's in "The Best Interest"

I recently heard that a race loving fan was denied entry to Saturday's G1 Memsie Stakes racing meeting at Caulfield Racecourse on Saturday 2 September.  Why?  Because he had a camera and lens with a focal length of 200m and these items are no longer allowed to be brought in to a racecourse by a member of the general public.  After I read this comment I walked away from my computer in disgust.

My first point is that racing is not an industry where patrons are bashing the door down to get in the gates.  Winx's last dramatic win in Sydney only drew a crowd of 9,000 odd fans to Royal Randwick.  Racing is not cricket.  It's not the footy.  It's not soccer or the NRL.  Apples are not oranges and oranges will never be apples.

Let's pause for a moment to consider the ramifications on the introduction of such a policy.  It's been well documented that the sport has for many years struggling with declining crowds and participation rates.  We struggle to attract enough owners to the sport.  It's hard to get staff and even harder to retain them.  It's difficult for a rank and file person (like myself) to own a share in a racehorse.  Don't get me wrong.  I'd love a teeny tiny share in a racehorse but on my income and with 2 children to raise I don't have that sort of disposal income to spare.

I've worked in the industry for over 20 years now as a professional thoroughbred photographer and 10 of those years have been full time.  It doesn't make me rich but I've been relatively successful as evidenced by our recent trip to Europe when commisioned to photograph for H.H. The Aga Khan Studs, Juddmonte Farms, the Irish National Stud and Haras d'Etreham.  I also enjoy very close working relationships with major industry players like Arrowfield Stud and Magic Millions in particular as well as Vinery Stud, Woodside Park and many others.

As a professional photographer am I threatened by the thought of a fan or amateur photographer bringing their camera along and taking photographs?  Absolutely not!  Do I fear that by allowing them in that they will get a better image than I?  Again absolutely not! Why?  Because for a start I'm in a priviliged position and I get better access to than the general public plus I have years of experience and probably my equipment is more sophisticated.  However if they do get a great image, well done them!  Should other photographers be worried?  I don't believe that they should because I just don't believe it is a problem.

Do I care if a member of the public takes their camera to the races, takes a nice series of images and puts them on their wall?  Or gives it to a friend, or even, heaven forbid, sells a copy for a little bit of spare cash?  I couldn't care less!  Why?  Because in the overall scheme of things it really doesn't matter to my business (or to the business of any official photographer who might be tempted to be territorial).  If it encourages people to love the sport and to love the horse then actually it's a good thing.  I believe an economist would call this the trickle down effect! 

When I was growing up you could go down to the newsagent and buy, once a month, not one but 2 glossy magazines that were filled with wonderful images of famous racehorses.  It inspired me to love the industry because I loved horses so much and it fuelled a lifelong passion in the industry.  Today is a digital age and unfortunately that's been at the expense of the printed magazine.  However I think that this is a huge shame because while I agree lots of us can look at content online, there is nothing more tangible and enjoyable than looking at an image in print and to look at a large copy of it.  

I used to save the magazines and put some of the pages on my walls and instead of having posters of rock stars (ok I did have some, like ABBA, the Police, Bowie, etc) I had pictures of horses on my walls and I made scrapbooks which I still own.  Today you can't do this very easily and you can't even buy a racing magazine in the newsagent.  As a parent I don't think unfettered computer or device time is healthy and there's nothing better for your child than to read a paper book or magazine and I'll happily spend money on these physical items.  But with racing I don't have that choice anymore.

And here's the paradox for Victorian racegoers. Not only are they not allowed anymore to take their own camera and lens in (and let's face it if you want to take a nice image for yourself of your favourite horse you really need a 200mm or plus lens), but their options of purchasing an image are greatly reduced because (1) they can't cut them out of magazines any more and (2) they are so limited in what they can buy.

A photographer like myself is forbidden to sell a photograph to a member of the general public.  I can't put them on my website for general viewing even if they are clearly un-downloadable and/or watermarked.  Its against the rules.  I've always maintained that photography is a form of art and art is highly subjective and people like different things.  Does the same rule apply to other jurisdictions in Australia?  No!  And as a general rule it doesn't happen internationally and neither should it.

My point is that if an individual likes a particular image, isn't it better for them to be able to buy that image, or to even just see it?  Different photographers see things differently.  I know this first hand because my partner and I frequently shoot them same scenes but our eyes see them very differently.  So the diversity and size of the image pool is important, as is its availability.  And the issue of availability also affects price because if supply and demand are out of sync then there is an affect on price.  Of course this is a debate which needs to be taken further because by reducing the capacity of a professional like myself to earn an income through varying streams it makes it more difficult to attact good people to work in the industry. But this is a side issue.

My first reaction to learning about this new rule of entry was to check the "Rules of Entry" section in Saturday's racebook it said nothing about restrictions about what the general public can take into the course, it only said that any images they take must be for personal use.  However this individual was refused entry after security searched his bag because his lens was over 200mm lens.  And this says nothing about the length of distance he'd travelled to attend the meeting or who he'd brought along. 

When it's all said and done a paying customer and a racing fan has been turned away at the gate at a time when crowds are dimishing and participation is falling, particularly among younger people.  My colleague at Arrowfield Stud, Vicky Leonard, has written an excellent series on the problems facing the racing industry and the challenges that lie ahead in how we market it and she focuses on the low participation of younger people.  A link to her first article is below and you'll be able to see her follow up pieces as well. 

I add that the younger generation has been brought up in an environment where a camera is no longer a luxury as it used to be and in an age where amateur camera equipment is now capable of taking very fine images.  As a comparison I didn't get my first camera until I was 21 and it took about 3 frames a second and it was film!  So the capacity of today's camera to take nice images and to enjoy them is far greater than it was when I was growing up and in a nutshell this is a good thing.  So while you can no longer buy a magazine in the newsagent and unfortunately they can't buy from a professional like myself you could still go to the races and take a picture of a horse like Winx.

If you're like me and like series like Doctor Who, Harry Potter and the Big Bang Theory (ok, and Back to the Future) you'll be familiar with the concept that a moment in time can lead to forks in the road which can impact on the future and this leads to my final point 

Way back in October 1992 I went to Royal Randwick for the very first time in my life.  It was the 1992 Epsom Handicap meeting and for me that single day was career defining because although it took some time to establish, this was the day that eventually led to a career in the industry and I like to believe that the thoroughbred industry has benefited from my participation.

I was just a member of the public who happened to love racing and one day went to the races in Sydney armed only with my own camera and a love of the thoroughbred.  I'd grown up in Canberra and while I'd loved racing I'd rarely been able to go to the track to watch major events because airfares were expensive and driving to Sydney or Melbourne took forever in the days before the Hume Highway had been duplicated (oh goodness I am showing my age which for the record is only 49 and fingers crossed my health will stay good enough for me to add to that number!!!!). 

My library contains some of the finest imagery of the Australian bred thoroughbred both on and off the track dating back to 1992.  However if I'd been turned away at the gate with my camera on this day in 1992 none of this could have been possible.  While I realise that I am just a tiny speck within the industry I still believe that the industry would be poorer if I hadn't perserved and become part of it.

There is a power attached to the still image that is evidenced by the fact that in my 2015 trip to America and my 2017 trip to Ireland, France and England I still had people stop me and say "you're Bronwen, you took those images of Black Caviar standing in the water at dawn and I loved those images".  It reminded me that some of what I do is important.

If we treat potential fans, owners, and industry participants without respect and remove their capacity to enjoy the industry (whatever the source of that inspiration may be - in my case it was a camera and a 200mm zoom lens) this is harmful to the industry as a whole. 

Racing has been gifted with not one but two champion racehorses in the past 7 years and between them they have won 44 races in succession.  They are Black Caviar and Winx, the latter having just won her 19th successive race.  Winx is not unbeaten like Black Caviar and they are very different horses however her appeal is growing exponentially.  The careers of these two horses have reinforced my long held belief that it is a love of the horse that is paramount to good sensible marketing and that we have to do what we can to make the sport accessible and to make it appealing.

In the meantime my advice to lovers of horses and in particular Winx: if you want to take a photo of Winx or buy a photo of this great champion don't bother doing it here in Victoria.  Do it in Sydney because they haven't gone down this unnecessary path.

I will leave this article with a series of images that I took way back in the early 1990s, which include a frame of a little black filly called Slight Chance winning the Flight Stakes in October 1992. 

Defining Moment:  The picture that convinced me I could do it (yes, I chopped her feet off, my camera used to take possibly 3 frames per second) - Slight Chance - 92 Flight

After the Moir I went to The Valley to my very first Cox Plate.  It wasn't my first time to Moonee Valley.  My grandmother had once taken me to see Manikato race and win the 1981 William Reid Stakes.  I never got to see my hero Kingston Town race but I did meet him twice.  This is one of my earliest pictures and it was taken in the public at "The Valley".  Schillaci - 92 Moir using a Nikon F401 film camera.  Not bad for a hobby.....

Alanon - 94 Rubiton Stakes.

Angst - 93 Silver Shadow

Blevic - 93 VRC Derby

Blevic with a very young David Hayes after his Derby victory

Danewin - 94 Caulfield Stakes

Doriemus - 95 Caulfield Cup

Durbridge - 94 Australian Cup

Flying Spur - 95 Golden Slipper

Hareeba - 94 VRC Stakes

Jeune - trackwork

March Hare (sigh - my favourite boy at the time) - 93 Peter Pan

Naturalism - the horse who got me back in to racing after I'd become a bit disillusioned with the industry post Kingston Town who I loved more than life itself at age 14

Navy Seal - Epsom

Beautiful Octagonal - 95 Cox Plate

Schillaci - Moir

Our Maizcay - 95 Cox Plate

Our Maizcay - 95 Caulfield Guineas

Again, Octagonal

Slight Chance - Hill Stakes (can't remember what year)

Vintage Crop - 93 Melbourne Cup - my first

Just for fun I'll leave you with a little bit of WINX - enjoy her in Sydney while you can!  The gear is more sophisticated and I'm definitely older but I still love the horses just as much and I still believe in the industry.

Winx and I have started a new series of beach images for the world to enjoy.