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05 September 2017

Defining what's in "The Best Interest"

I recently heard that a race loving fan was denied entry to Saturday's G1 Memsie Stakes racing meeting at Caulfield Racecourse on Saturday 2 September.  Why?  Because he had a camera and lens with a focal length of 200m and these items are no longer allowed to be brought in to a racecourse by a member of the general public.  After I read this comment I walked away from my computer in disgust.

My first point is that racing is not an industry where patrons are bashing the door down to get in the gates.  Winx's last dramatic win in Sydney only drew a crowd of 9,000 odd fans to Royal Randwick.  Racing is not cricket.  It's not the footy.  It's not soccer or the NRL.  Apples are not oranges and oranges will never be apples.

Let's pause for a moment to consider the ramifications on the introduction of such a policy.  It's been well documented that the sport has for many years struggling with declining crowds and participation rates.  We struggle to attract enough owners to the sport.  It's hard to get staff and even harder to retain them.  It's difficult for a rank and file person (like myself) to own a share in a racehorse.  Don't get me wrong.  I'd love a teeny tiny share in a racehorse but on my income and with 2 children to raise I don't have that sort of disposal income to spare.

I've worked in the industry for over 20 years now as a professional thoroughbred photographer and 10 of those years have been full time.  It doesn't make me rich but I've been relatively successful as evidenced by our recent trip to Europe when commisioned to photograph for H.H. The Aga Khan Studs, Juddmonte Farms, the Irish National Stud and Haras d'Etreham.  I also enjoy very close working relationships with major industry players like Arrowfield Stud and Magic Millions in particular as well as Vinery Stud, Woodside Park and many others.

As a professional photographer am I threatened by the thought of a fan or amateur photographer bringing their camera along and taking photographs?  Absolutely not!  Do I fear that by allowing them in that they will get a better image than I?  Again absolutely not! Why?  Because for a start I'm in a priviliged position and I get better access to than the general public plus I have years of experience and probably my equipment is more sophisticated.  However if they do get a great image, well done them!  Should other photographers be worried?  I don't believe that they should because I just don't believe it is a problem.

Do I care if a member of the public takes their camera to the races, takes a nice series of images and puts them on their wall?  Or gives it to a friend, or even, heaven forbid, sells a copy for a little bit of spare cash?  I couldn't care less!  Why?  Because in the overall scheme of things it really doesn't matter to my business (or to the business of any official photographer who might be tempted to be territorial).  If it encourages people to love the sport and to love the horse then actually it's a good thing.  I believe an economist would call this the trickle down effect! 

When I was growing up you could go down to the newsagent and buy, once a month, not one but 2 glossy magazines that were filled with wonderful images of famous racehorses.  It inspired me to love the industry because I loved horses so much and it fuelled a lifelong passion in the industry.  Today is a digital age and unfortunately that's been at the expense of the printed magazine.  However I think that this is a huge shame because while I agree lots of us can look at content online, there is nothing more tangible and enjoyable than looking at an image in print and to look at a large copy of it.  

I used to save the magazines and put some of the pages on my walls and instead of having posters of rock stars (ok I did have some, like ABBA, the Police, Bowie, etc) I had pictures of horses on my walls and I made scrapbooks which I still own.  Today you can't do this very easily and you can't even buy a racing magazine in the newsagent.  As a parent I don't think unfettered computer or device time is healthy and there's nothing better for your child than to read a paper book or magazine and I'll happily spend money on these physical items.  But with racing I don't have that choice anymore.

And here's the paradox for Victorian racegoers. Not only are they not allowed anymore to take their own camera and lens in (and let's face it if you want to take a nice image for yourself of your favourite horse you really need a 200mm or plus lens), but their options of purchasing an image are greatly reduced because (1) they can't cut them out of magazines any more and (2) they are so limited in what they can buy.

A photographer like myself is forbidden to sell a photograph to a member of the general public.  I can't put them on my website for general viewing even if they are clearly un-downloadable and/or watermarked.  Its against the rules.  I've always maintained that photography is a form of art and art is highly subjective and people like different things.  Does the same rule apply to other jurisdictions in Australia?  No!  And as a general rule it doesn't happen internationally and neither should it.

My point is that if an individual likes a particular image, isn't it better for them to be able to buy that image, or to even just see it?  Different photographers see things differently.  I know this first hand because my partner and I frequently shoot them same scenes but our eyes see them very differently.  So the diversity and size of the image pool is important, as is its availability.  And the issue of availability also affects price because if supply and demand are out of sync then there is an affect on price.  Of course this is a debate which needs to be taken further because by reducing the capacity of a professional like myself to earn an income through varying streams it makes it more difficult to attact good people to work in the industry. But this is a side issue.

My first reaction to learning about this new rule of entry was to check the "Rules of Entry" section in Saturday's racebook it said nothing about restrictions about what the general public can take into the course, it only said that any images they take must be for personal use.  However this individual was refused entry after security searched his bag because his lens was over 200mm lens.  And this says nothing about the length of distance he'd travelled to attend the meeting or who he'd brought along. 

When it's all said and done a paying customer and a racing fan has been turned away at the gate at a time when crowds are dimishing and participation is falling, particularly among younger people.  My colleague at Arrowfield Stud, Vicky Leonard, has written an excellent series on the problems facing the racing industry and the challenges that lie ahead in how we market it and she focuses on the low participation of younger people.  A link to her first article is below and you'll be able to see her follow up pieces as well. 

I add that the younger generation has been brought up in an environment where a camera is no longer a luxury as it used to be and in an age where amateur camera equipment is now capable of taking very fine images.  As a comparison I didn't get my first camera until I was 21 and it took about 3 frames a second and it was film!  So the capacity of today's camera to take nice images and to enjoy them is far greater than it was when I was growing up and in a nutshell this is a good thing.  So while you can no longer buy a magazine in the newsagent and unfortunately they can't buy from a professional like myself you could still go to the races and take a picture of a horse like Winx.

If you're like me and like series like Doctor Who, Harry Potter and the Big Bang Theory (ok, and Back to the Future) you'll be familiar with the concept that a moment in time can lead to forks in the road which can impact on the future and this leads to my final point 

Way back in October 1992 I went to Royal Randwick for the very first time in my life.  It was the 1992 Epsom Handicap meeting and for me that single day was career defining because although it took some time to establish, this was the day that eventually led to a career in the industry and I like to believe that the thoroughbred industry has benefited from my participation.

I was just a member of the public who happened to love racing and one day went to the races in Sydney armed only with my own camera and a love of the thoroughbred.  I'd grown up in Canberra and while I'd loved racing I'd rarely been able to go to the track to watch major events because airfares were expensive and driving to Sydney or Melbourne took forever in the days before the Hume Highway had been duplicated (oh goodness I am showing my age which for the record is only 49 and fingers crossed my health will stay good enough for me to add to that number!!!!). 

My library contains some of the finest imagery of the Australian bred thoroughbred both on and off the track dating back to 1992.  However if I'd been turned away at the gate with my camera on this day in 1992 none of this could have been possible.  While I realise that I am just a tiny speck within the industry I still believe that the industry would be poorer if I hadn't perserved and become part of it.

There is a power attached to the still image that is evidenced by the fact that in my 2015 trip to America and my 2017 trip to Ireland, France and England I still had people stop me and say "you're Bronwen, you took those images of Black Caviar standing in the water at dawn and I loved those images".  It reminded me that some of what I do is important.

If we treat potential fans, owners, and industry participants without respect and remove their capacity to enjoy the industry (whatever the source of that inspiration may be - in my case it was a camera and a 200mm zoom lens) this is harmful to the industry as a whole. 

Racing has been gifted with not one but two champion racehorses in the past 7 years and between them they have won 44 races in succession.  They are Black Caviar and Winx, the latter having just won her 19th successive race.  Winx is not unbeaten like Black Caviar and they are very different horses however her appeal is growing exponentially.  The careers of these two horses have reinforced my long held belief that it is a love of the horse that is paramount to good sensible marketing and that we have to do what we can to make the sport accessible and to make it appealing.

In the meantime my advice to lovers of horses and in particular Winx: if you want to take a photo of Winx or buy a photo of this great champion don't bother doing it here in Victoria.  Do it in Sydney because they haven't gone down this unnecessary path.

I will leave this article with a series of images that I took way back in the early 1990s, which include a frame of a little black filly called Slight Chance winning the Flight Stakes in October 1992. 

Defining Moment:  The picture that convinced me I could do it (yes, I chopped her feet off, my camera used to take possibly 3 frames per second) - Slight Chance - 92 Flight

After the Moir I went to The Valley to my very first Cox Plate.  It wasn't my first time to Moonee Valley.  My grandmother had once taken me to see Manikato race and win the 1981 William Reid Stakes.  I never got to see my hero Kingston Town race but I did meet him twice.  This is one of my earliest pictures and it was taken in the public at "The Valley".  Schillaci - 92 Moir using a Nikon F401 film camera.  Not bad for a hobby.....

Alanon - 94 Rubiton Stakes.

Angst - 93 Silver Shadow

Blevic - 93 VRC Derby

Blevic with a very young David Hayes after his Derby victory

Danewin - 94 Caulfield Stakes

Doriemus - 95 Caulfield Cup

Durbridge - 94 Australian Cup

Flying Spur - 95 Golden Slipper

Hareeba - 94 VRC Stakes

Jeune - trackwork

March Hare (sigh - my favourite boy at the time) - 93 Peter Pan

Naturalism - the horse who got me back in to racing after I'd become a bit disillusioned with the industry post Kingston Town who I loved more than life itself at age 14

Navy Seal - Epsom

Beautiful Octagonal - 95 Cox Plate

Schillaci - Moir

Our Maizcay - 95 Cox Plate

Our Maizcay - 95 Caulfield Guineas

Again, Octagonal

Slight Chance - Hill Stakes (can't remember what year)

Vintage Crop - 93 Melbourne Cup - my first

Just for fun I'll leave you with a little bit of WINX - enjoy her in Sydney while you can!  The gear is more sophisticated and I'm definitely older but I still love the horses just as much and I still believe in the industry.

Winx and I have started a new series of beach images for the world to enjoy.

31 May 2017

Postcard from Ireland

Bonjour!  We are in Ireland after arriving on Thursday.  I had been intending to write each day but we seem to have been running from 6am right through till 10pm without stopping much.  By the end of the day I've been too tired to write anything.

Our flight across was really pretty ok.  I'm a nervous flyer, despite the number of miles I do in the air, and was therefore a bit apprehensive about flying Emirates because I'm used to Qantas but they were really very good.  Although we were a fair way back in the plane (and to tell the truth the seats were a teeny tiny bit hard) our row had no one behind us which meant we could recline our seats without impeding anyone.  We had a full row (only 3 of us) but the man sitting with us was nice and we chatted on and off to him throughout the flight (he was English from memory heading home through Heathrow Airport for a family gathering?).  I can't say that I got a lot of sleep but it seemed to go much better than the flight a couple of years ago to Los Angeles which took FOREVER!
On arrival into Dubai which was our 90 minute stop over we were able to use the Emirates Business Lounge through my Qantas Club membership and that was pretty nice so we felt more refreshed when we got on our flight to Dublin.  I read recently that if you get on a flight and think "only 7 hours" it really does prove that you live all the way to whoop whoop.  Alas and woe we didn't have a window seat on the flight to Dublin.  Although in reality that was a small price to pay because for some reason our flights across were not linked and at one stage it looked likely that we wouldn't be sitting together for the 7 hour Dubai - Dublin leg and both of us thought that would suck.  It's a lovely experience when Darren and I travel together.  I have a sense that Darren is always looking out for me, and even when things get stressful an argument is really very rare.  We have a mutual love of the work and we spark off each other and have different skills.  Plus we have an easiness together that I've never had in previous relationships and perhaps that comes with both being so passionate about what we do. Truly, madly, deeply?  I guess so.

The plane landed into the Dublin just after midday on Thursday and we breezed through customs and got our bags off so quickly and easily I was walking out the front saying "is that it????"  We caught a taxi into Dublin City to our hotel.  

Dublin is filled with cobble stone streets and fabulous building and the streets are lined with so many different and brightly coloured doors.  Naturally I liked the red ones the best.  We spent a few hours wandering around on Thursday afternoon/evening where I did a little bit of gift shopping (which turned out to be time well spent because the rest of our time in Ireland just raced through and was spent mainly on the farms).  We then grabbed some dinner at the local pub before collapsing into bed around 8.30pm.

Jetlag kicked in around 3am on Friday morning and we gave up and got up around 4.30am.  Since we were up we figured we might as well go for a walk before breakfast.  We discovered that our hotel was on the same block at Oscar Wilde's house and the gardens which are named in his honour, Merrion Square.  Much to our annoyance the gardens were shut until around 9am which seemed ludicrous to us and I walked around muttering that Dublin was shut.  Truth be told though I absolutely loved Dublin.  The people were all so friendly and the age of the streets, buildings and just the general feel of it was fabulous.  I can't say I developed any real sense of where I was (that 'no inner compass' kicking straight back in) but Darren was pretty good at getting us around.

We spent a fabulous hour in the gardens of St Stephens which is a garden dedicated to Ireland's fight for independence. It was so pretty and the morning was warm and sunny.  After this I insisted that we head back to a little jewellery shop I'd seen because I wanted to buy Jessica and her beautiful friend India a matching pair of shamrock earrings and then headed back to check out of our hotel so that we could collect our hire car.

The hire car company in Ireland was Europcar.  It's fair to say that after my experience with them that I will never hire another car from them in my life (apart from the one that is prepaid in England) because basically they are capitalist elitist snobs and have a draconian policy that classes you as a second class citizen if you do NOT have a credit card.  According to them a VISA Debit Card is useless and we were very nearly left without a car despite having PREPAID for it.  Just for the record I don't want a credit card because I believe in living within my resources.  I manage my money and this policy is NONSENSE and outrageous.  As I said, never again..  We did end up getting a car which I had to pay more money for and it was far smaller than the car I had paid for and I bet getting a refund from them will be like getting blood out of a stone.  As I said, after this trip they won't get anymore of my business!

Rant over, we drove down out of Dublin to the Irish National Stud in Kildare.  It's a gorgeous farm.  Warm, welcoming and beautiful.  Invincible Spirit stands there and so to be asked to become his stallion photographer is pretty grand.  The first day at a stud is really all about learning about the place, the horses and the staff, and we weren't blessed with great weather.  The next day was quite humourous and put Melbourne to shame.  We had a mixture of cloud, then beautiful sun, then cloud, then sun, then rain, then sun, then cloud, then rain followed by hail before the sun came out again!  All you could do was be patient and laugh!  The forecast was pretty ordinary on Sunday so we postponed the 2nd day and went sightseeing instead.  It was a fun drive down to Waterford which my mum had said we should visit.  We went to the Waterford shop and did a bit of shopping although we were both pretty tired seeing as we were still getting over the flight and jetlag and Saturday had been a big day.

Then on Monday I fulfilled a lifelong ambition by driving through the front gates of the Aga Khan's famed Gilltown Stud.  Passing the statue of the brilliant but tragically ill fated champion racehorse SHERGAR brought tears to my eyes.  I was in high school when he was abducted and killed by the IRA in the early 1980s.  The statue is fabulous and symbolic of a lost champion and the legacy that never was.  Alas and woe we weren't left with a Dubawi, who managed to carry on the line of his short lived sired Dubai Millenium, from Shergar's one and only foal crop.  He was lost to us forever.  We've spent a great deal of time with Aline Giraud, who is warm and welcoming and at times immensely funny.  I've loved hanging about with her and working with her as we've gone along.

Sinead Hyland and Patrick Diamond (who we'd previously worked with at Arrowfield Stud - he'd featured in those lovely images of Miss Finland with her Animal Kingdom filly in 2014) at the Irish National Stud were just terrific and we had a couple of lunches and evenings with them.  They were generous with their time and loved the photographs which pleased us so much.  The stallion staff, in particular Daffa and Paul were wonderful and we like to hope that this trip has been the start of an ongoing relationship with both staff and horses.  The National Stud is a wonderful investment from the Irish Government who clearly views the thoroughbred industry as a national asset.  The number of tourists who visited on the 3 days we were there was quite remarkable.  

To be asked to photograph for the Aga Khan Studs is very special and the importance is not lost on me and I think after my cancer health scare in 2014 these moments are all the more special to me.  Sea The Stars was a racehorse I idolised and so to photograph him as a stallion is a gift.  It's been fabulous meeting and developing a working relationship with his stallion groom Ray and assistant Ben.  They had a laugh when "Pinky" (my secret weapon) came out.  When I accidentally left her behind at the stallion barn and came looking for her the next day, Ben joked that they were holding Pinky for ransom.  As always, just as she's done with other famous horses, Pinky worked her magic when nothing else would.  It was terrific photographing Sea The Stars' half brother, a stallion named Born to Sea.  He's also out of champion broodmare Urban Sea (she's also the dam of the remarkable northern hemisphere stallion Galileo) and he's by Invincible Spirit.  The third stallion we photographed was Harzand, who is their new stallion and dual Derby winner and son of their champion Sea the Stars.

After we finished shooting for the Aga Khan Studs and the National Stud we had two days at the Curragh for the Guineas weekend.  The first day was just quietly fairly wretched as it poured with rain.  The second day was much better!  The highlight was meeting my 'cousin' and famous Irish racing photographer Pat "Cash" Healy.  Pat is surely one of the only people in the world who can make Ryan Moore giggle spontaneously.  Following him around and watching him work, and watching the way he interacted with Irish racing personalities was (to quote Bruce McAveney) "special".  Darren, Pat and I had dinner together on Saturday evening after our soaking at the Curragh and he helped us out on track on both days and it was great to hear his thoughts. 

Our trip out of Dublin was eventful with the Airfrance check in counter completely overwhelmed and in all honesty we were lucky to make our flight.  Our next installment comes from France and that's been daunting but fun and humourous all at the same time!  The clouds have finally cleared this evening and we're hoping for nice weather today. 

We're so jetlagged.  My once nice smile gets lopsided now when I smile.  Alas and woe.

Hello Dublin

Night cap.

Roadside strawberries!

Viking castle in Waterford.  Just for fun.

Love this shot Darren took head on of CHURCHILL winning the 2000 Irish Guineas.

CHURCHILL.  Irish 2000 Guineas.

CHURCHILL.  Irish 2000 Guineas.

HARZAND.  Son of Sea the Stars.  Epsom and Irish Derby winner and new Aga Khan stallion.  Loved him.

New ad for champion racehorse and stallion SEA THE STARS.

Our BnB in Kilcullen. Geraldine and her gorgeous daughter Laura were lovely.

My 'cous', Pat "Cash" Healy.  He's so fabulous.
No biting!!!!  With my 'new boy' INVINCIBLE SPIRIT.

Our "new boy" INVINCIBLE SPIRIT, Patrick Diamond, Bron and Darren.  Magic moment..

13 May 2017

Countdown. D Day minus 14 (.... errr.. 4)

When I started writing this post (which admittedly only got as far as a single paragraph) we were 14 sleeps away from walking onto a plane and flying to Ireland.  My kitchen bench is a sea of lists and they don't seem to be getting shorter although I am crossing things off, so I guess I'm making progress.  But on going back into my only just started post, I had to correct the title because it's now only 4 sleeps until we walk on board of said plane!  Which demonstrates how parlously bad I have gotten at writing on my Blog.  Sorry about that.

This will be my very first trip to Europe which when I think about is a bit pathetic.  Somehow there were always horses and not much money and overseas travel wasn't possible.  Then my kids came along and so straight away that made it a lot harder.  Well, impossible really. 

Naturally this trip will be incredibly horsey but surely you'd guessed that already. Actually, I think it's going to be almost all about horses.  And much to my disgust I just discovered that the one really touristy thing I wanted to do, which is the Princess Diana Exhibition at Kensington Palace, is sold out for the dates we are in Europe!  The website does say that there will be some tickets available at the gates but to expect huge queues.  "Disappointed!!!" 

At the moment I'm spending nearly all my time organising things for my children while I'm away and also preparing all the things we need to do before we leave.  This activity comes off the back of a very busy summer and autumn carnival so there's no shortage of things to put on my list.  There's a diary as long as my arm of the kids' commitments, all nicely entered into the calender and printed out which I hope my Nanny will be able to follow easily.  And then of course its the "how much camera equipment can I take?" debate.  I think that the equipment is all in hand.  We've bought some nice camera bags which should work well and there's a few other new items as well.  We do after all want to produce our very best work.

First we go to Ireland.  Oh hurraahhhhh!!!!  I've ALWAYS wanted to go to Ireland.  We'll be visiting the Irish National Stud and Gilltown Stud.  And we're hoping to go and meet Galileo at Coolmore and it would be terrific to see champion Australian mare Atlantic Jewel (or "AJ" as we called her affectionately) seeing as she's now a resident at Coolmore Stud.  She has a few Galileo foals although I don't think any of them are of racing age yet.  We will also go to the Irish Guineas weekend at The Curragh (again, oh my god....)  and we'll meet photography luminary Pat Healy.  Namesake, right?!  But no, we are not related. 

From there we fly to France. We're doing french lessons and they are complex and hard but I just love it.  I remember doing lessons when I was really young but I hated it and was terrible at it.  Of course now I wish I had persevered.  We are going to keep up with the lessons on our return.  I think that my pronounciation is better than Darren's but I am struggling to remember it all.  Most of our time in France will be in Normandy and Chantilly.  We will go to the Aga Khan Studs and to Haras d'Etreham and also to the French Derby. 

The final leg will be in England.  I'm going to pretend to be Bridget Jones in London.  We have a few days to just swan around in London (staying in Kensington) and then we'll spend the last few days in Newmarket where we'll see Juddmonte, Dalham Hall and go to the gallops. We're staying with a great friend of mine and that will be fabulous.

So stay tuned and watch for the images.  I hope that you will like them.  As we say, the Image is Everything.  I'll leave you with a series of images of The Legend, Redoute's Choice, who stood 2 seasons for the Aga Khan Studs in France.  He is represented this weekend but some of his French bred runners in a couple of Group 1 races in France this weekend.  This is the horse who has made all of this possible for me.  Redoute's, it's been a privilege to be your stallion photographer.