Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Josh Walker's Method Behind the Magic

Thanks for coming back for the second part of photographer Josh Walker's interview here on Three Days Three Ways. I know I'm not his only fan so I'm happy to have the opportunity to showcase his moving work and give you a chance to revel in it!

Q. What’s it really like behind the scenes at an event?

A. It varies from event to event but, I’ll take Rolex as an example. This will be my fourth or fifth year. Every year it gets better and better because you start to know everyone. You see Buck Davidson and Karen O’Connor and they say hi and know who you are. Not to sound star struck but it’s nice to go as a part of the sport that they are the top of. You’re helping progress the sport that they are reining over-so to speak. That’s one of the exciting parts of being behind the scenes at an event.

photo courtesy of Josh Walker

Then you interview people like Buck who’s been winning nonstop. You start to build a repore. It’s nice to have a conversation that turns into an interview and you get to share that with people. I was in Ocala filming for the Young Event Horse stuff and Karen O’Connor was there; she’s a legend, but she’s so nice. I was watching the dressage and she just walked up and sat down next to me and started talking. It’s cool. There are so few sports in the world where that would happen. It’s a very unique community. As far as the atmosphere for Rolex: exciting. For AEC [American Eventing Championships] I would say: so busy. You’re going in twenty different directions at one time. So many horses and riders and things that need to be done. Being a part of the staff you’re a part of everything. You’re not just taking pictures. If you need to unpack or organize merchandize you do it. Everyone is a master of many trades and you do what needs to be done and have your specialty that you’re really good at.

photo courtesy of Josh Walker

Q. What are you thinking about when you take pictures?

A. Gosh, it all kind of comes second nature now. I guess mood. It’s really one of the biggest things I try to focus on: to capture the mood. Taking into consideration the lighting, what’s the background, the angle it will capture. There are good angles but there are angles that are unflattering to a horse and rider. I like it when they’re looking in my direction. When they’re looking away I feel like viewers will lose the connection. It has a whole different dimension when you can see their eyes and the emotion and the horse really doing it’s job. When you find your angle you have to look at the sky and make sure you’re not shooting directly into a low sun. Sometimes it works but mostly you get a muddy backlit photograph. Usually it’s not as appealing as side light. I really like sidelight because it reveals texture-you can see all the muscles and veins in the horse. If it’s behind my back it’s flatly lit; I like to give it a little more dimension.

photo courtesy of Josh Walker

Once I’ve got my angle and light I have to look at the background and make sure it’s mostly neutral and not distracting. Second, that it’s far enough away to get that separation and keep horse and rider nice and sharp but the background blurred out to give it that nice soft quality that is unique to a photograph. After that it’s having the horse come through and getting the timing right. That just comes with practice. Another thing is how many jumps can you get, you know? It’s really hard to get more than one jump with trees. Or if it’s winding you can get only one or two fences. Where at Rolex you can get six or seven efforts in one short distance and you have a variety of pictures. One of the main differences between the way I shoot and a photographer that’s selling to the riders is that I try to get as many different angles and as many different jumps on the course since I’m trying to give an overall feel of the whole venue. It’s second nature after a while and the main thing is finding a rhythm. When I’m out there the first few horses I’m still trying to find a rhythm and where I’m supposed to be and capture this horse coming through. Once I’m in a good spot—it’s kind of like listening to a good album. When the horses come through you’re listening to the song. The horse goes by and it’s the break before the next song. Okay now here it comes again. That rhythm goes through wherever I am. You have to find that complex’s rhythm and stick with it.

photo courtesy of Josh Walker

Q. What photographers do you look up to?

A. Richard Avedon was my biggest influence. He did a lot of portraits of regular people on a stark white background. I did a project to mimic that. I had people hold their dogs up in front of a white background. There’s nothing to focus on so you really start looking at the subject. In the horse world I worked with Shannon Brinkman all last year in 2008. As far as capturing the mood and the beauty and the power and everything that makes eventing what it is-she was the person that revealed how to do that. She’s been doing that for 25 years and is one of the best in my opinion. Amy Dragoo, also. I love her work. She’s up in the Pennsylvania area. Also Amy McCool—on the West Coast and very artistic the way she captures it. Charlie Mann does different horse sports and sports in general.

from 'Dogs and Their People' series. That's love.

photo courtesy of Josh Walker

Q. Where do you want this to go?

A. This is where I want to be. I watch football on tv and other mainstream sports and I always admire the guys on the sideline but at the same time, I feel like there aren’t any other sports that are as unique or have that special mood and feel that eventing and horse sports do. There’s no other sport like it. I feel like it’s a pretty special niche to be in. I like where I am now. The only other sport I would go back to would be surfing. But it’s so hard to get into that. I’m lucky to get into this industry the way I did. I’ll stick around for a while.

I love the Brady Bunch look!

photo courtesy of Josh Walker

Q. What about when you’re not behind a camera?

I sit around and putter with my guitar and piano and record stuff on my computer. As far as type of music I like-lots. I tend to listen to things that you don’t often hear on the radio. I like to scan internet radio to hear independent artists, alternative rock, and movie soundtracks—scores. Those inspire me, I like that they’re so powerful. If you think about it if you watch a movie without the music it’s not as powerful without the music. If you took the music out it wouldn’t work. When you put the music behind it, it works. Long story short, I like the emotion in the music. I’ll seek out some of my favorite Hollywood composers—Hans Zimmer, James Horner, John Newton Howard.

Q. Anything else?

A. Literally and figuratively I wouldn’t be here without Emily. I got into the horse world with hard work. But she has been the number one inspiration to me in advancing so quickly as I feel I have.

photo courtesy of Josh Walker

That concludes the Josh Walker interview. I hope you enjoyed it. If you've fallen in love with Josh Walker's photography the way I did you can see more of it on his website: See you next time!

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