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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Farrier's Portrait: No Chestnut Trees in Sight

15 December 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog at

A friend asked me yesterday who my favorite photographer of farrier subjects was, and I couldn't answer. I've been thinking about it ever since. My friend is an aspiring photographer who wants to capture the world of farriery right down to its most intimate gestures of tongs or rasp or nipper.

I guess my answer is that I'm just incredibly curious how people take pictures of the horse's hoof and, secondarily, its attendant humans and environment. I've looked at probably millions of photos and I am just amazed when I keep seeing a point of view or a subject that I hadn't seen covered before. The possibilities are endless.

Take, for instance, this self-portrait of British farrier Gary Huston. He put the camera on the ground at the base of his hoofstand and got an ant's eye view of the horseshoer at work. His face is distorted, but that's gravity and focal length at work.

Sometimes a portrait doesn't even show the person's face. It might be straight-on shot of something you see of that person every day; it can be magic if the colors are right and the shutter speed cooperates. Daniele Voltattorni from Italy captured every move farrier Giordano Gidiucci made while shoeing his show jumper Nelson. He did a great job with this one, and some lovely metal-on-metal portraits of his Delta nails and tools as well. I thought maybe he was their ad agency in Italy! But he just likes the color and texture and light characteristics of metal. There's no one element in this photo that competes with the sparks, they all compliment the flying colors and the light on the farrier's hands. You don't need to see his face.

It's really pretty hard getting a good portrait image of a farrier. They either have caps on, or the light is bad, or you can't see their faces. The talented New York photographer Sarah Jean Condon solved that problem for farrier Kaytlin Bell by using the horse's comfy topline as a prop. All you see of her is her face, and one gloved hand. The Hoof Blog won the American Horse Publications first place award for this photo back in June. Remember this one the next time a photographer comes around (and you have a gray horse handy).

These are just a couple of shots that come to mind for me; it's all about how you look at things, and how/when/if that little crack of light sneaks in and lights things up. I think a good photographer always knows that there is a crack where some light will get in, in every good shot. That's where they start, and build the photo around the light, which might be just a speck...or the whole side of a horse.

I don't think that there could be a more interesting subject to photograph than horses' feet, farriers, veterinarians and all the barns and driveways and dark smithies and brightly lit clinics each present special challenges. When you get a really good image, you know you've earned it.

Many thanks to Gary, Daniele and Sarah for allowing their images to be shown on this blog.

PS: Farriers might be curious about the weird inner rim on Gary's shoe in the first image. I certainly was. It's not part of the shoe, it's the base of his hoofstand. He uses this plate (above) which he says is cut out to fit the size frog of most of the horses he shoes, and when the horse puts his foot on the plate, it locks in for Gary to rasp away on or clinch. Here's the plate all by itself; Gary took this photo just to explain it to me because I was a little slow to catch on to the concept.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask.

Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page).

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