Riding high

19 January 2012

Horses, horses, everywhere. But take a glance at her pictures and itís not difficult to see why international equestrian photographer Astrid Harrisson is so in love with these majestic creatures. In fact, such is her passion that the 32-year-old has travelled the world extensively in search of the scores of its breeds that walk the earth.

From the foothills of the Andes to the plains of America’s Wild West, the remote mountains of Mongolia and unspoilt deserts of India, Astrid has traversed the globe in a bid to experience and understand more about these animals and the magnificent territories where they subsist. “Horses have played an instrumental role through the ages in societies across the world,” she explains. “Cultures everywhere use them for travel, pleasure, work, farming — even food. While using them for work in Western societies is a dying practice, thanks to machinery, if you go to Kazakhstan or Mongolia, horses are still a very necessary part of life there.”

The English-born professional doesn’t know where the intrigue comes from, but says she has loved horses her entire life. “I had my own horse for about six years,” she explains. “I worked on a ranch in Australia for a few months when I was 18, and then again for a few months in Argentina later on. I’ve always been around horses.”

The desire to specialise in shooting them, however, didn’t come about till much later. “When I was about 24, I met an American girl in Italy and we spent three months running around, taking photographs. Every year since then, we’ve met up in different parts of the world to take photographs, but it wasn’t till 2007 that I started doing horses — just horses.”

Doesn’t specialising in equine photography limit her scope of work? “I feel it’s the total opposite, actually,” Astrid clarifies. “It allows me to focus and expand in one area. The world of horses is such a diverse one that I don’t feel I’m limiting myself in any way at all.”

Astrid’s work was showcased more recently in the launch of the book,  , which literally took her across the world in its bid to showcase 90 different breeds of horses. The project was not without its challenges. “We had to go looking for Brumby horses in the snowy mountains of Australia,” she says. “My friend and I slept in the car at the base of the trail leading up to the mountains, woke up very early and hit the trail. I didn’t know where we’d find them in that vast mountain, but we were so lucky because in 30-45 minutes of walking, we stumbled across a small herd of small, wild Brumby horses. They’re normally quite flighty and tend to run right away, but it was quiet in the morning and we managed to get a few good shots.”

“Another amazing place we visited was Assam in Northern India, where we photographed the rare breed of horse called Manipuri,” she continues. “There aren’t that many of them outside the region of Manipuri, and the region itself is very difficult to access. You need permits and the area is politically difficult, too. Thankfully, I managed to find a guy who breeds about 12 of them. It was an incredible experience.”

Capturing perfect shots of horses is a lot more challenging than one might think. “You can’t really tell horses what you’d like them to do,” Astrid points out. “Sometimes when I’m photographing them, I find myself talking aloud, giving them directions, even though I know they can’t hear me. I guess it’s a matter of being creative, flexible and patient as well.”

(Astrid will be visiting Dubai next week to share her expertise at a workshop hosted by the Majlis Gallery in Dubai on Jan 14-15 and Jan 21-22.)





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