Barbara Schnell: Every Picture Tells a Story
Our guest columnist of this week is German equestrian photographer Barbara Schnell. Born in 1964, Barbara works as a translator and as an equestrian photographer and journalist. Her work has been published by magazines and in books all over the world. She thinks that dressage is a way of life as much as a sport. "In dressage, you never stop searching, you never stop learning; and isn't that what life is about?"
Every Picture Tells a Story
A couple of years ago, Richard Davison brought a fire extinguisher to the second day of the Global Dressage Forum. Someone in the press seats had been in danger of self-combusting the day before – and that someone was me. Once upon a time I just used to shake my head and smile mildly when people tried to belittle the work of photographers documenting not-so-nice scenes in the warm-up arenas of the world as „bad moments“, but when it happened for about the dozenth time in front of such a distinguished audience, I just had to say something: I can't speak for my colleagues, but I love dressage, and I want to express that love in my work.
So – like a lot of dressage riders – I get up at four thirty most summer weekend days in order to get to the show-du-jour, and when I arrive, my first stop is often the warm-up ring. I love to watch riders at work with their horses and coaches, I love it even more at sunrise when everything's still quiet and the light often beautiful. (Besides, I ride myself, and I also have a couple of students – what better place to learn than the warm-up ring, where I can observe the world's best doing their thing.)
Now. About those bad moments. It's true, I can take a bad picture of everyone, catch a horse in a bad phase or a movement gone wrong, with its mouth open or its neck in an unfortunate position. But I don't want to. Most of the time, if I do catch a horse at a bad moment, I don't even take the picture home; I delete it straight from the memory card. There's a difference, though, between catching a pair at the wrong instant -- and witnessing rough riding. If a horse bleeds in front of my camera, that's not a bad moment; it's the result of an injury. If a rider forces a horse and it resists again and again over a stretch of time, then that's not a bad moment; it's the result of either unskilled or deliberately rude riding. Those horses deserve someone on their side, and since that someone, alas, isn't always a steward, then it's up to the photographer (and most of the colleagues I know don't sleep very well after taking such pictures).
I really think hard before releasing a picture for publication. If I choose one, I try to make it tell a story, be the essence of what I saw – preferably conscientious preparation, the search for harmony and expression, for balance and effortless communication. I only rarely give away the bad ones, and the money I make with them ends up supporting a local horse shelter.
Im not out to get „them“, you know. I'm out to take the perfect picture, and nothing makes me happier than a rider who helps me get closer that that goal – which is, of course, a pretty elusive one since our horses get better and better and our riders and trainers smarter and smarter. But I'll keep searching, and while I do that, you'll keep seeing me around the warm-up ring. Because it's there where we see what makes a rider tick – it's there where we find the story behind the image.
by Barbara Schnell
Read Eurodressage's other Guest Columns here