The Equine Photography of Carol J. Walker

Stallion's Glory, Photography, 40 x 30

From artists of the French Romantic period like Gericault and Delacroix to the famous 18th century British painter of horses George Stubbs, the idealized equine figure has been such a ubiquitous part of  art history that one might easily mistake the images of the Colorado-based photographer Carol J. Walker for paintings –– especially since they are presented as Giclee prints on canvas. This, of course, should not be construed as either a compliment or detriment, since the aesthetic qualities of a work in either medium can only be determined on evidence of specific examples. It does, however, suggest  Walker’s consistent ability to impart a mythic dimension to her pictures, which in photography as much as in painting, can only be the product of a very particular combination of artistic vision and individual  sensibility.
    Yet what matters even more is Walker’s superb sense of composition and the poetic effects she achieves, which would be remarkable in any artist, regardless of her or his medium or chosen subject matter. A less tangible but equally important facet of her art is a sense of empathy and intimacy quite rare in animal photography, which she explains as follows: “I seek to capture the essence of the horses that I am photographing by spending time with them and becoming in tune with their nature and behavior. My goal is to provide the viewer with a connection between them and the horse I am photographing. When I am photographing wild horses I strive to inspire people to help save them.”
    Toward this end, in 2008 Walker, who has followed herds of wild horses for the past six years in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, has published a book called “Wild Hoofbeats: America’s Vanishing Wild Horses.” And if the photographs in it are anywhere near as striking as the ones in her present New York exhibition, they must garner considerable support for her cause. For her pictures capture dynamically the grace and the glory of these beautiful creatures, whose existence on public lands is now seriously endangered.
    One of her most affecting images is “Mare in a Blizzard II,” a monochromatic composition with the delicacy of a fine pencil drawing, in which the form of the lone animal is almost subsumed by a pointillistic flurry of falling snowflakes. By contrast, in “Dark Horses,” a herd, backlit by the sun, gallops headlong toward the viewer through a shallow body of water like shadow-steeds in a dream.
   “Three Mares Running” harks back to famous horse painters of the Old West, such as Charles M. Russell and Frederick Remington, not only for the energy and velocity it projects, but for the landscape itself, with its vast expanse of blue sky, pink-tinged cumuli, distant mountains, and the sagebrush through which the animals gallop, their manes flying in the breeze. Another picture, in which a magnificent stallion is isolated against a relatively plain background like a monumental sculpture, is more reminiscent of Stubbs’ paintings of horses in domesticated settings such as ranches and racetracks.
    Neither sensationalized nor sentimental, these thoughtful pictures not only make a convincing case for the preservation of these beautiful creatures that figured so prominently in the history of our country, but also for Carol J. Walker as our most gifted contemporary equine photographer.
–– Wilson Wong

Carol J. Walker, Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, Nov. 29 -Dec. 20, 2011. Reception: Thursday, Dec. 1, 6 - 8 pm.

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