Let’s talk about beauty. The word is bombarded at us so frequently that many of us have a very specific idea of what it means. One can think of models, horse prints, landscapes, bright colors or fashionable clothing when thinking of beauty. We have primed a definition of what beauty is based on what we see around us and what we’ve been told is beautiful.
Imagine a world where there were no magazines or television shows or songs describing the beauty and what it should be. How would we think of it and what would we consider beautiful? It is certainly agreed that beauty is subjective. What an American finds beautiful may be far from what a Korean finds attractive. Both standards are still valid, but it depends on who you’re asking. So where does our own idea of beauty begin and where does the media’s portrayal of it end? This is a topic that many of us have been struggling with in recent years.
Beauty in the Rough
I always want to wow my audience. No matter what I’m photographing, at the end of the day, I want my viewer to be in awe. And so, I often find myself chasing beauty, elegance, and power. Those are usually my first impressions of what is attractive, an explicit display. It makes it easier for the artist in a way. When your subject itself yells, “Look at me!” the audience is likely to pay attention. However, this brand of beauty may have become oversaturated with time. To escape this template, I started to look behind the conventional themes of beauty. I turned over rocks and also searched for the overlooked models of the natural world, those that were rarely given a second glance.
When I found them, it wasn’t easy. No doubt about it, there was work to be done on my end. I had a fair bit to unlearn. My usual methodology didn’t always apply to my unconventional models. There was no glamour to sell here. More often there were nuances that I had to look carefully to find. Horse prints of my rougher models would need to capture these nuances. That required my patience and also focus. As a wildlife photographer, this was not a foreign concept to me. The majority of my work is an exercise in patience. However, this required a different approach. I wanted to envision my horse art outside the frame of big bold majestic animals and see the intricacies of unconventional beauty.
An Old Horse
This horse print is a great example of what a different perspective can look like. This stallion’s mane was rough and also muddy, his eyes were tired and solemn, and his coat had been weathered over the years. The stallion was not a young animal for sure. He looked tired and trodden, having seen the coming and goings of many seasons. A resident of the back of the herd, he did not radiate conventional beauty for sure. He may have graced a framed horse print in his youth, but likely not any horse art today. Still, he was gorgeous.
He wasn’t a striking animal for being majestic or elegant, but for how I had to work to capture his beauty. Any photograph I took of him had to focus on him. I wanted just the stallion before me, no props, frills, or distractions. I wanted every detail in this horse art to stand out. That was the only way to capture the nuances of this animal. The monotone helped me pull out the rich textures of the image, without watering them down in the distractions of color. The focus is undoubtedly the eyes, which are strikingly emotive despite being surrounded by his lush mane. This close up horse print brings the viewer right up to the horse, giving them the opportunity to properly study him.
I was very satisfied with the spirit of this horse that I was able to capture. Whether in framed horse prints or vast plains, this horse was beautiful. Photographing him made me realize how unforgiving we are to ourselves and others when it comes to beauty. There is no denying that we tend to put conventional beauty on a pedestal, often above most else. The halo effect is a very real thing. This is also known as the ‘physical attractiveness stereotype’ and describes that people tend to think that ‘what is beautiful is also good’.
We often gravitate towards stereotypically beautiful things because we associate them with good things. This may not always be the case. More importantly, we live in a world filled with diversity. People age, scar, grow and change. Beauty is everywhere; both fluid and subjective. Sometimes it just needs you to look a little closer to see it.
We also thank Paul and Barb Silbernagel from Ranch in Linton, ND and Frank Kuntz from the Nokota Horse Conservancy in Linton, ND.
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