Tony Stromberg’s healing horses

How did you find your style – showing horses without any human interference?

 

It was that way from the beginning. A lot of equine photographers focus on shows, competitions, riding, that sort of thing, but I felt that this was not much different from the advertising world I was leaving behind. Any time there is high-level competition, whether it is between rival advertising agency giants, or owners of very expensive horses, there is gong to be damage done, either physical or psychological, and usually both. I wanted to show the pure spirit of the horse, without any human result in mind. I loved them for who they were, not for what they could do for me or how far they could carry me.

 

Have you become a better photographer since you started shooting horses?

 

I think I became a happier photographer, but I am not sure about better. I think my love for my subject comes out in my work, and people pick up on that. It comes through in my work. As far as the technical, I think I had already achieved a certain mastery in photography. I just used that mastery to refocus my lens on something that matters to me. My toolbox didn’t change much, but my subject matter changed completely.

 

Could you tell me a little bit about your new book?

 

The book I am working on now is coming out in October, and it is called ‘Horse Medicine’. It asks the question ‘What is it about the horse that speaks to people so deeply and archetypally? How do you define that?’ Although it is a photo-coffee table book, it addresses this question, and hopefully is also a collection of my newer work that does capture and share that essence.

What did you learn from the horses?

 

Authenticity, for starters. Horses – all animals, for that matter –  hate it when you pretend to be one thing, but are really something else entirely. Horses hate incongruity, and it makes them very uncomfortable. It makes people uncomfortable, too, but we are not as keenly attuned to our senses as horses are. Their survival depends on it, literally.

 

“I wanted to show the pure spirit of the horse without any human result in mind.”

 

They have also taught me about thinking of the herd instead of just myself, and that the survival of the herd  – tribe, community, village – has to come first. They have taught me about collaboration, about working together, not competing against one another. They have taught me about reciprocity, and also how to ask instead of demand. They have taught me that in order to dance this dance we call life, it has to be done as equal beings, not the old superior-inferior model which is how many humans relate to animals and all the other beings that share our world.

 

You published several books and you arrange workshops – does this interaction inspire you, too?

 

Yes it does. I love sharing through my books, and I love putting together workshops and bringing people’s love for photography and horses together in one place. Many people that have attended workshops have become lifelong friends.

 

You’ve photographed horses from around the world. Do you have a favourite place?

 

Oh, I love them all, and it is hard to pick a favorite because they are all so different. I try to do some new workshops each year in a place that I have never been before, with horses I have not photographed before. Next spring, we are already planning one in Morocco, and also Italy, in addition to Portugal and possibly even Greece.

 

Your favorite horses?

 

Andalusians, Lusitanos, Friesians, Lipizzaners….

 

You seem to have some strong views when it comes to educating people. What are your hopes here?

 

I think I am just sharing my journey, and the path that I have travelled, and what I have learned along the way. I see all that is happening to our world, all the different species going extinct because their habitats have been destroyed, serious imbalances all over the place, and yet we continue to consume more and more. We have to start to think of the whole, and that we are all in this together, and that we all live downstream.

 

“The horses taught me about collaboration, about working together, not competing against one another.”

 

So, the horses could help change our mindsets?

 

Horses in the wild are dependent on each other, no horse would survive all alone. There is a hierarchy, of course, but it is a living system that works together, and the health and well being of the herd comes first… individual needs and desires are  secondary. Yes, we absolutely could learn from them. Mankind has a twisted sense of superiority over the animals, fish and birds, and it causes a major imbalance. We are destroying the very ecosystem that supports us.

 

You photograph wild horses. What are your views on the removal of  them in America?

 

I think it is ridiculous. Wild horses are being systematically removed by the tens of thousands, to the point where they could very well be extinct in 30-40 years or less. Why? Because there is no profit and they do not generate income. The government sees them as vermin, feral animals that serve no purpose to mankind. So the land gets allocated for oil and gas drilling and cattle grazing instead.

I love the wild horses and what they represent, and it makes me very sad that their value as a cultural icon of the great American west is not recognized, nor appreciated.

 

There’s a beautiful light cast over the horses of the Freedom Project. What is your technique?

 

There is nothing technical. I do not use lighting equipment, no reflectors, flags, scrims, just natural light.
I look for light, and I especially like backlight and rim-light, and a lot of dark backgrounds. But I do not use lights, I look for this kind of lighting, and position myself in relation to the light and background. And then expose accordingly.

My best advice for students?  Follow your heart, do what you love, shoot what you love to shoot, keep trying and don’t give up.  Henri Cartier-Bresson said that ‘your first 10,000 photos are your worst’.  Try new things, break rules, and don’t do what you are supposed to do.

 

Tony Stromberg’s latest book, Horse Medicine, is available on amazon.com

 

www.tonystromberg.com

 

©horse-tales.com

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