TDN: Tell us a bit about yourselves, how long have you been photographers?
Bronwen: Darren and I come from very different backgrounds. Our paths into the industry were very different, as were our skill sets and we met at the track.
I used to be like a lot of racing photographers in that I had a full time job outside of the racing industry. In 1993 I began taking photographs at the racetrack during my spare time. For 18 years I worked at CSIRO in a commercial and financial capacity. My father was CSIRO’s General Counsel so it was a natural thing for me to join the organisation. I liked it but it was a horseless desert. I did a Bachelor of Arts (in Political Science and Economic History) at ANU and went part time at CSIRO after I had children. I kept up the photography although it was much harder with 2 little kids (one of whom developed Type 1 Diabetes at 18 months) and still living in Canberra. In 2008 I was retrenched from CSIRO. I’d just started working for Arrowfield, Vinery and Darley, and I’ve photographed full time ever since.
Darren on the other hand has been a full time photographer since he finished school. Darren’s father was a former HWT photographer and picture editor and Darren worked first at the Footscray Mail and then moved to the Herald and Weekly Times/Herald Sun. Darren had the might of the H&WT behind him. He had the access and resources that mere mortals like me only dreamed about and in the early days I put them all up on a pedestal. The friendships and camaraderie in the Melbourne Press Rooms were always something I looked forward to along with working alongside many of these great photographers although in the early days I was too shy to speak to a lot of them.
Both of us started on film cameras and Darren used to use manual focus lenses. Every shot had to count because film and developing were expensive and you couldn’t check the back of a screen and films higher than 800ASA were pretty marginal. I used to shoot around 8-10 rolls of film on a major day like Slipper Day meaning I took perhaps 400 frames for the whole day. I had to save hard to buy my equipment and it was a struggle to get accreditation so for many years my path was difficult.
TDN: How did you get into photographing thoroughbreds?
Bronwen: I lived in Canberra until 2014 and came from a non horsey family. I spent all my spare time riding and my 2nd horse was a handsome but very difficult, badly educated and unpredictable ex-racehorse who reared, fell over backwards, ran my leg into fences and bolted. I started dressage clinics with German dressage coach Edgar Lichtwark and the horse became manageable. Edgar’s philosophy was firmness but to never engage the horse in a fight, think your way around a problem and encourage the horse to work with you. His stallion Falkland II was the sire of my now 24 year old Holsteiner mare. I did clinics with him until 2005 and he died of cancer in 2006. His words have stayed with me ever since including when I am working with horses.
The only time I went to the races was January 1981 when my grandmother took me to see Manikatowin the William Reid. Engagement with thoroughbreds began through books. It was always about the horses beginning with Phar Lap, the series “The Black Stallion” and then I fell in love with Kingston Town. I collected every newspaper, magazine and book on Kingston Town and racing in general. After Kingston Town retired I got disillusioned with the industry because I’m fiercely loyal and I hated the “better than Kingston Town” comparisons with every promising 3yo. It was Naturalism that drew me back in.
Dad bought me a camera for my 21st and I went to the races properly for the first time, the 1992 Epsom Handicap meeting. I took a decent photo of a filly called Slight Chance in the Flight Stakes and went to my first Cox Plate (the famous year there was a fall where Naturalism lost the rider) and took another nice photo of Schillaci winning the Moir.
TDN: What’s it like being so up close and personal to all the action during the spring carnival?
Bronwen: In all honesty it’s brutally hard work and much harder now because of the demands of immediacy. You can’t spend the day concentrating on creating content because we also need to output work while the raceday is underway. As a smaller operator we can’t afford to employ a photo editor so every minute we spend behind the computer on raceday is time lost photographing. Some tracks involve carrying heavy equipment a long way. When you are photographing horses like Black Caviar or Winx the day feels easier despite ‘media scrum’ environment which can be both chaotic and undignified. On the track you have to accept that you can’t direct too much and it’s a more observational style. It’s really nice when a horse you’ve photographed as foal or yearling appears on the track. I think it was Winx’s stripey front hoof that made me photograph her in the parade ring when she sold as a yearling.
TDN: Can you walk us through what happens on a typical race day?
Bronwen: We try to arrive 2 hours before the first race. Darren sets up remote cameras while I’m doing the setting up of folders, laptops. Early in the carnivals he covers Melbourne and I fly to Sydney so we have both major tracks covered. The remote gear usually stays with Darren because we don’t have 2 kits and he’s better at it! Remote cameras are fun but heavily resource driven so commercial considerations of revenue versus capital expenditure in equipment and staffing have to come into play. Most of my business comes from the bloodstock industry who don’t use remote shots heavily because the wide angles distort the shape of the horse so I have to be sensible about what capital investments we make.
When we’re both on track Darren concentrates on the people and I have more of a bloodstock focus and I spend time at the horse stalls too.
TDN: What other kind of photography do you take other than race days?
Bronwen: My work is all thoroughbreds. When I’m not on track I’m working on stud farms with stallions, mares and foals or I’m at the yearling sales. Darren has other non-racing corporate clients doing portrait or editorial style work. I’m also juggling 2 kids who live with us full time. Darren gives me an enormous amount of support here, particularly when I’m travelling interstate. I couldn’t do it without his help.
TDN: Do you have a favourite thing to photograph, race days, yearling sales or on farm?
Bronwen: Working with stallions and foals. I have more control and scope to be artistic. The stallions are majestic and play a pivotal role in shaping the breed, and foals are a delight. We photograph some of the best stallions in the world and the last 3 seasons I’ve been photographing the only Deep Impact foals to be born in Australia.
TDN: What’s your favourite photo you’ve ever taken?
On the racetrack it is Black Caviar standing in the ocean just before sunrise on 24 January 2012. It was during a pivotal point in my life and was published all over the world. It was taken around 5.30am when it was only just getting light during one of Melbourne’s famous heatwaves and I was in my swimmers up to my waist in the water. I had a close relationship with “Nelly” as she was known.
Stallions it is the close up of Redoute’s Choice in his paddock. He has moments where he just mooches around, then he suddenly swells with presence.
Darren’s is Saintly dreaming with the Melbourne Cup trophy. Darren was supposed to photograph Bart with Saintly but the real picture came when he spotted Saintly sleeping in the stable and they still had the trophy there. They snuck the trophy in, and Darren (on film) lay on his stomach with a 300mm lens and took a handful of frames, one where Saintly opened an eye to look then closed it again. The photo ran on the front page of the Herald Sun the day before the horse won the Cup and a copy was hanging in the Flemington Press Room.
TDN: Who are some of your favourite horses you have photographed?
Bronwen: I was very close to Black Caviar. Winx is an obvious choice and both mares would stop for the camera. The one I’m excited about is The Autumn Sun. I think he’s really special and have been photographing him since he was young and he’ll retire to Arrowfield Stud. It’s also hard to go past Sunline, Lonhro and Octagonal.
Of the stallions Redoute’s Choice changed my life and I love him. His son Snitzel is such fun in the paddock but so professional and never puts a foot wrong. Maurice is the most magnificent looking horse I’ve ever photographed, and I’m really enjoying Shalaa and Caravaggio who are both delights! Overseas it is Invincible
Spirit, Frankel, Sea the Stars and Galileo.
TDN: What other kind of opportunities has this opened up for you?
Bronwen: The racetrack lead to photographing with stallions. I’ve photographed for Arrowfield Stud for 10 years and that is the body of work that I’m the most proud of and together we pioneered a new way of marketing and personalising the stallions. It’s given me much more confidence in myself because I used to be too frightened to speak to any of the important players in the industry and it’s led to what I hope are enduring friendships. I’m really enjoying working with some progressive new farms in Woodside Park Stud and Aquis Farm.
Recently it has given us commissioned work in Europe. The racing and breeding industry is one where work can allow international travel. In 2017 it was for H.H. The Aga Khan Studs (Ireland and France), Juddmonte Farms (England), the Irish National Stud and Haras d’Etreham. In 2018 we returned to Ireland for Coolmore and the Irish National Stud. Photographing champion stallions like Galileo, Frankel, Invincible Spirit, Sea The Stars, Wootton Bassett, Oasis Dream, Siyouni and Dansili, etc is a gift. We got to meet some luminary photographers at The Curragh and Chantilly which was wonderful after following their work from afar. In 2015 I travelled to America with the help of fabled journalist Steve Haskin and photographed Triple Crown champion American Pharoah. I was recovering from a nasty cancer at the time and it was super to meet some of the American photographers and to visit Kentucky for the first time. Darren didn’t travel with me because he volunteered to stay home with my kids but the 2 trips to Europe together were fabulous.
TDN: Have you got any advice for anyone interested in a career in race photography?
Bronwen: My main advice would be to be prepared to work hard, persevere and to learn from others. Try to get to know the people involved, most of them are terrific! And get to know the horses. Don’t be tempted to give your work for free in return for a credit. It won’t help you pay your bills or buy your next camera and it undermines all other working photographers. Being territorial is never the answer. Trying to produce the best quality work has and will always be the best way. Enjoy the friendships you’ll make along the way because racing has some great people who live and breathe the sport.
I do have some concerns for the future. I worry about restrictions on racetrack entry, getting accreditation and methods by which you can commercialise your work if you do choose to be a thoroughbred photographer. There are fewer jobs in the newspaper industry now and many photographers are now trying to make it as freelancers. The changing nature of the media industry means that racetracks need to accept that more photographers will be freelance and to accredit them accordingly.
I get concerned when I hear reports of members of the public being prevented from taking their cameras to the track because that person might be an aspiring thoroughbred photographer and I think we want to encourage more people to do this.
If we discourage photographers from specialising in the industry and don’t allow them the ability to earn a living from their work, then the long term effect will be fewer photographers specialising in horses and I think that would be a bad thing.