Tony Stromberg’s healing horses


Let there


be light!


Through the lens of Tony Stromberg the horses are portrayed as he perceives them – as strong, beautiful creatures who help keep the planet sane.


By Camilla Alfthan, all images by Tony Stromberg



With clients who included everything from major banks, makers of air planes, computer manufacturers, fashion houses and Robert Redford’s Sundance film festival,  Tony Stromberg was leading the hectic city life as a photographer, working from his San Francisco studio loft and only wearing black.

“I worked so much that I eventually lost the passion that made me enter photography in the first place,” he tells.

After two decades in the world of fashion and advertising the horses unexpectedly inspired him to pick up the camera again. He closed his studio and moved to New Mexico where he now works out from a 12 acres country house complete with four horses, three dogs and three cats.  

As an esteemed equine photographer he has developed a distinct signature style which is very much about light.


How did you start?


I was a graphic designer and illustrator, and dabbled in photography now and then. When I started to hire them for commercial design jobs, I realized that a good photographer could charge some pretty good fees, which really fit with my temperament. I do not do well in a 9 to 5 job, making an hourly wage. I would much rather do some intense creative work, and then rest for a while in between. I also thought that advertising photographers had really cool, large studios in contrast to my tiny little office.


Who inspired you?


I never studied photography or art in the classic sense, so I was not inspired by the ‘masters’. Instead, I was inspired by certain photographs I saw in ads and in magazines. I stumbled onto a group called the Peninsula Advertising Photographers Association pretty early on, and some of the members there took me under their wing and really taught me a lot, sharing their experience in a very generous way. The more I got involved in photography, the more I found myself drawn to some of the more contemporary fine-art photographers… Sally Mann, Sarah Moon, Mike and Doug Starn, Sebastiao Salgado, Richard Avedon… these are a few that inspired me.


I also found a professional photo store in Palo Alto, California that I would spend hours at, looking at equipment, books, and especially lighting gear. I love light, and I taught myself photography by tearing ads and photos out of magazines and studying them until I figured out how they were shot and lit. I learned that lighting is everything in photography. In the early days, I didn’t have much money, so my so called studio consisted of clip lights from the hardware store and bed sheets for diffusing light and making backdrops.


Why did you eventually want to quit?


When I started, I thought the advertising world was glamorous and exciting. Traveling around the country doing photo shoots, the fast pace and demanding deadlines, the high dollar ad campaigns… It was a fast-paced, highly competitive world, and at one point I was riding the crest of a wave, being one of the top 1 per cent in San Francisco. Over the course of 20 years, I guess I started to question everything in my narrow world. I started to ask deeper questions about life and myself, and my integrity. This lifestyle was not nourishing me anymore, it was not nourishing my soul.


“I learned that lighting is everything.”


In fact, in the end, I seriously questioned what I was doing involved in a multi-billion dollar industry whose sole purpose is to create a need and desire for a product that nobody really needed. I realized that it was not glamourous, that it was manipulative, and that the advertising world would do just about anything to get ratings and increased sales.  It is an irony that I was eventually drawn to study psychology after many years of doing this.


How did the horses come into the picture ?


I had a friend and client who lived in San Francisco, and one day I asked her why I never saw her on weekends. She said she was another person entirely on the weekends, when she took off her black leather clothes and spent two days each week with her horses. She said it kept her sane.  She invited me to come along one day, and I brought a camera, and I photographed horses all day, and I was hooked.

Here were these big, powerful animals that knew nothing about agendas or manipulation or sales figures, and I just found them beautiful. They gave me a reason to pick up the camera again, and the work I started doing with the horses was somewhat of an homage to them, and it was a way I could once again find nourishment through my photography… by shooting something that I loved, instead of something or someone that I had no relationship with.



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