I like how you present it as a paradox, and you don’t enforce that you have to pick a side between whether a horse is masculine or feminine, but you point out that there is a history. Can you talk about the process of shooting horses in the studio? You have photographs of horses both outdoor and indoor in the book, but it looks like there are also ropes, fans, and significant coloring.
All of the coloring was in post-production. I had fun adding whatever colors I felt like adding. I actually did one shoot of a horse in 2010, just to make sure that I could do it.
I wasn’t born a commercial photographer, I was born an artist, and I’ve been doing art my whole life.
There was this horse, his name is Casey (he was in a Beyoncé video), and he lives in L.A. I did one shoot of Casey in an actual studio, but all of the other studio-looking ones were shot in a studio we built in the horse ring. No one would bring their horse into a studio, because they don’t want to bring their prized animals into an environment where they wouldn’t be comfortable, or where they might panic and hurt themselves.
So, for all the ones that look like studios, I set up a big piece of white or black fabric in the studio with fences to protect the lighting gear. There were fans for the Casey shoot. For some of the other ones, I was shooting about an hour or two outside of L.A. in this area called Walker’s Basin. It’s this weird, elevated plain inside of a valley, but it’s at a really high altitude. We actually did have fans, but we didn’t use them, because it was so windy that the lights kept moving.
The other location shots were taken in Vancouver at Danny Virtue’s ranch. Danny Virtue is a big film/horse person, and he just kept making them run around like crazy. It was really hard to follow them and focus while they were running. It's one of the hardest projects that I’ve done.
Would you consider it harder than Glass Ceiling, where you had to go underwater?
It definitely wasn’t easy to be scuba diving and trying to focus the camera underwater, but you realize that you can mostly keep the camera at infinity when you’re shooting underwater. You do have to keep focusing, and it can be hard to see when you’re wearing a mask and shooting a camera in an underwater housing, but the horses were also really dangerous. I feel like they were more dangerous than the monkeys, bears, lions, and tigers that I’ve photographed. Horses are prey animals, and most of the other animals that I’ve shot are predators. If you act mellow with predators, they know that they can kill you, so they are cool, but if you work with prey, they think that you’re going to kill them at any moment. Because they are bigger and stronger than you, if they get upset, they can just kick you in the head or trample you.
Did you wear a helmet or any protective gear?
[Laughs] I didn’t wear a helmet, because you know, photographers do really stupid things.
You put your life on the line for this book.
Yeah, all of my shoots have been pretty difficult. Trying to get pictures of kids crying or even monkeys…it’s all difficult.
What draws you to such controversial subjects? With everything you do, there’s a surface level that could be misinterpreted as all there is to understand. Someone could see Horses and think that it’s just a collection of pretty painted horses. Do you sometimes feel like these controversial details find you? What gets you so excited about a project that you decide to research it and expose what other people aren’t seeing or talking about?
I don’t know, I’m just always thinking about things. I have a list of ideas that I want to do for my art series, but I’m always trying to figure out what’s going to work. Ever since I was in art school, I would read and get ideas. Sometimes the photograph sparks an idea in me, and I continue in that direction. That happened with the Glass Ceiling series and the monkey series. With the End Times series, I had done images of crying kids quite a few times, but when I saw them in 2006, I remembered that it was something I found really compelling.