Guest Blog: Photographer Bronwen Healy
The striking imagery in Arrowfield’s stallion advertising is created by Victorian-based photographer Bronwen Healy who has worked with the Stud for the past decade. Bronwen’s technical skills are complemented by an artistic eye that simply can’t be taught and a deep, lifelong love of horses, all of which drives her to capture arresting images that are admired throughout the bloodstock world. Here Bronwen explains her work with Arrowfield, what she aims to achieve and her relationship with that very special boy, Dundeel.
Stallion photography used to be quite conservative and consisted of only a handful of images, mostly the standard conformation and head shots. Often the only image ever published of a horse was its conformation shot and this same image was trotted out year in and year out. If you go back through old industry magazines and books, there are not many images of stallions once they retired and finding pictures of them is difficult. Yet a champion stallion, or broodmare, is the key to the success of the breed so to me it it didn’t make sense that so few images were taken of them.
Tony Leonard was one of the great equine photographers in America, and he created the conformation image as a tool for making meaningful comparisons between different horses. As a stand-alone image it remains very important. However, it doesn’t tell you much about the other qualities that can be equally important, such as a stallion’s athleticism, balance and personality.
One of Arrowfield’s strengths is their ability to recognise and nurture raw talent in people as well as horses. It could have been argued when I started working for Arrowfield in 2008 that I lacked the necessary experience to be entrusted with such a valuable stallion roster. Although I’d been photographing racing at the top level since 1995, shooting for the commercial breeding industry was new for me, and the farm was riding the crest of a wave. Their stallions had sired consecutive winners of the prestigious Group 1 Golden Slipper between 2004 and 2007, and their flagship stallion was 2006 Champion Sire Redoute’s Choice, standing at the time for a cool $330,000.
Fortunately for me, Arrowfield was willing both to give me a go and to embrace a new way of photographing and marketing stallions, including photographing the stallions free in their paddocks. Although the 2008 shoot wasn’t much more than a “get to know you” exercise, over the next decade together we helped to shape the way stallions are now photographed and marketed.
My work for Arrowfield includes farm work and the racetrack. They appreciate good imagery and really want to use it. The creative team at Arrowfield is the benchmark for marketing horses and I’m happy to be a part of that team.
The primary reason I’ve haven’t walked away from racetrack photography (physically draining and often not financially rewarding) is because I love documenting the thoroughbred life cycle. I was there when Redoute’s Choice won his first race and again a week later when he won the G1 Blue Diamond Stakes, plus that famous victory over fellow champion Testa Rossa in the Caulfield Guineas and many of his subsequent Group 1- winning progeny. Becoming his stallion photographer, after being there right from the very beginning, was a gift – in particular, there are two shoots from 2012 when he glittered and sparkled in the sun. I’m proud of the library we’ve created of this legendary stallion.
Another stallion at Arrowfield who is very special is Dundeel. I spent time with him behind the scenes during his racing career after Vicky Leonard, Marketing Manager at Arrowfield, suggested that we follow him throughout the remainder of his career. She used some of this imagery in her marketing campaign “The Real Deel”. Although Dundeel’s Cox Plate aspirations were derailed by a foot abscess, the silver lining for me was the many images I took of the horse at Altona Beach while his foot was healing.
Dundeel’s first photoshoot at Arrowfield was September 2014 during a pretty ordinary Spring for me after I was diagnosed with cancer at the very end of August. I remember sitting in my doctor’s office talking about surgery and radiation and being absolutely appalled at the thought of another photographer doing my precious Dundeel while I was getting treatment. I kept saying “but I have to be up in the Hunter Valley, I have Dundeel’s first shoot to do and I CANNOT miss it”. My doctor looked at me in amusement before seriousness came back over his face and he leaned in and said, “But we need to make sure you are still alive to go back next spring, don’t we?” It was hard to argue with that. Determination won and we did manage to squeeze Dundeel’s first shoot in.
Dundeel is one of the most naturally beautiful and athletic horses I’ve ever photographed. His coat glitters with dapples, he has beautiful balance and is so well put together that it makes you forget that he’s not 16.3hh. He’s curvaceous, he shimmers in the sun and he’s so light on his feet that at times he appears to be dancing as he moves.
Every horse is different and what works for one horse might not work as well for the next one. Like most horses, Dundeel has angles that flatter and others that don’t. In the paddock though, there’s no wrong angle for him.
Among my favourite things about the racing industry are the friendships that you make along the way. We’ve become good friends with the owners who stayed in Dundeel and the affection they have for their horse is infectious. My daughter Jessica (pictured with him a couple of times at different ages) calls him ‘her boy’ after helping me with a photoshoot in 2014 when she was only nine (he was so gentle with her) and she always asks how he is.
I’ve photographed Dundeel at stud for three years, including his first two crops of foals, photographing these babies at every stage of their development, from teeny tiny foals, then more developed foals, through to weanlings, yearlings and in the sale-ring. His progeny have been well received and that’s pleasing.
The next stage for me will be pouring through race fields as they make their racing debuts. I tend to do a fair bit of research and I try not to miss much. Dundeel’s progeny are attractive and athletic and seem to have inherited his explosive speed. Often I walk into a paddock and say “I like this one” and frequently it’s a Dundeel. And they are friendly (although foals that are too friendly aren’t easy to photograph because they want to spend all their time investigating my camera) and on the whole they’re a lot of fun.
Vicky will sometimes shake her head when she looks through the pictures I’ve selected and say “there’s too many”. I will shrug and say “can you blame me?” Dundeel lends himself to beautiful imagery.
Horse photography can be all about very subtle angles. I’m sure handlers think at times I’m being finicky, but when you get it just right the image ‘sings’. It’s about light and backgrounds and getting the horse (and the camera!) in the right place at the right time. An image will resonate with me when I can see athleticism and beauty and when little nuances in the horse’s personality shows. I get fiercely disappointed when the light isn’t perfect and I always worry about whether we’ll get the right conditions for each shoot. For me there’s no such thing “enough pictures” because I always believe that next time I’ll take one just a bit better!
Vicky took a special sequence of Dundeel and me in the paddock last November. I’m very grateful to her, and I treasure those pictures.