Years ago (I won’t say just when!) when I was standing in the darkroom in high school for hours and hours, waiting for my mountains of film to develop, I don’t think I had any clue that I would have ended up being a photographer professionally. My subjects back then were, surprise, dogs and horses, because they were what I loved and was surrounded by. But one of the main reasons I was drawn to photography was because when I looked at something, I envisioned this image in my head and wanted to make that image come to life. While that artistic eye and mindset has followed me into my career, my motivation behind why I do what I do has changed drastically.
It was 2006 when I got the phone call that everyone dreads: My horse, Danny, had gotten sick with colic during the night and hadn’t survived. I was absolutely devastated and heartbroken, as anyone would be. We had had him since he was three years old, after he decided that running the track was not his cup of tea. I remember the moment I saw him: he was so lanky at the time, like most young thoroughbreds are, but absolutely gorgeous with these eyes that just spoke volumes. I knew in that moment that I had found a different type of soulmate in him. I saw him through the training process, one that was always never-ending with his personality. Bonded with him in a way I hadn’t with a horse in over 25 years. I got to ride and show him, even my daughter, Kelsey became advanced enough to ride him too…
He was only 9 years old. But, suddenly, in the blink of an eye, a big part of our family was gone. A part that I had never thought to be gone from us so soon or so quickly. It was also in this moment that I had a gut-wrenching realization: I had no photos of myself and Danny. All I had was the photos that I took of Kelsey and Danny together and of a few other riders showing him, but none with myself and him. Not a single photo that reflected our special bond we shared. Nothing to remember us together.
You think you have forever with a horse. And I thought that there will always be time to get those photos… And there wasn’t.
However, it has shown me just how important photos really are and why people need pictures. The unexpected can happen at any time and no one should be left without a visual memory of that family member or that part of their life. I never want anyone else to have to look back and say “I wish I had.”
It’s also why I take natural, on location, photos. I want to be able to capture your four-legged family member as they truly are in their natural surroundings, their personality shining through in the portrait. To show those expressions that you see on a daily basis. Like that wide-eyed gaze as they look up at you and listen with reverence to what your going to say next, or the small head tilt they sometimes give you at special phrases and words. To freeze in time those simple yet meaningful interactions between you and them, like a gentle kiss on the muzzle during grooming, or that moment when they crane their neck around to watch you with intrigue in their eyes. Those connections that really illustrate that special bond that you have with them.
There is no one time in our animal’s lives that is the “perfect time” for that memorable photo. In fact, photos of them in all stages is the best way to remember them fully. From those over-sized paws puppy days to the grey muzzled senior dog days. From the foal and yearling days of all legs and so much spunk to the days of swaybacks and calm maturity. Do it now while you have them happy, active and living their best lives! Because one day, when you look back at a photo of them that represents all those things you loved about them so clearly, you will be immensely grateful you did.
“You’ll never understand the value of a photo…until they’re all you have left.”