Wednesday, April 13, 2011
"The Foal Project"
NORTH CHATHAM, NY -- In the early hours of a quiet New York morning, photographer Lisa Miller sits outside a stall at Waldorf Farm. She is waiting, as she has many mornings past, for the miracle moment -- when a Thoroughbred mare meets her newborn foal for the first time.
Miller's vigil is part of an artistic effort she's simply calling "The Foal Project," a series of images taken during and immediately after the births of Thoroughbreds. It's a change from the ordinary for this wedding photographer, who found the beauty in her new subject when horsewoman Sandee Shultz first invited her to shoot the process in 2010.
"I loved horses as a little girl like most little girls do, but that was about it," Miller said. "When Sandee invited me to photograph the birth of one of her foals I thought, <,i>wow, this is really amazing! Afterwards, when I looked at the images, I knew I had to do something with them."
Shultz, a newcomer to Thoroughbred breeding, got involved with horses when she became ill with a neuromuscular disease. Formerly an active career woman (she specialized in digital equipment sales), she found it difficult to adjust to the slower pace prescribed by her doctor. When she experienced riding as a way of regaining strength, she quickly recognized the therapeutic values of the human-horse relationship. She initially got involved with Standardbreds, but purchased a few Thoroughbred broodmares at the suggestion of a friend.
"After realizing what horses did for my soul, for my everyday desire to love life, I thought, other people have to see this," she said. "And when you take a look at what goes on with a birth, it is the most beautiful moment when mare and foal meet. You feel it; there's this energy and it's just amazing."
The project evolved from Schultz's farm to places like Waldorf, where Dr. Jerry Bilinsky granted Miller access.
"I've been doing this for 40-odd years and have attended hundreds and hundreds of foaling on my farm, and I'm still in awe at the miracle of life when these foals are born," Bilinsky said. "Even though I've seen as many as I have, I still find it amazing. When you do this on a regular basis, you sort of take it for granted, but a lot of people don't get to see that connection, and I thought it was a great idea to have some type of photographic display of it happening."
The Foal Project brought Miller herself closer to horses. During what was only her second shoot, Shultz required assistance as she helped a mare deliver her foal, so the photographer put down her camera, grasped those tiny forelegs, and pulled. The resulting filly, a 2010 daughter of Andromeda's Hero, is now a prancing yearling, accompanied by 2010 filly Tarameslew and unraced 2-year-old Bella Bird, the first three Thoroughbreds produced by Shultz's program.
"I pulled the horse out and I was sold," Miller said. "It was so cool, I can't even tell you. I've photographed other horses but this is different. The connection a Thoroughbred mare makes with her foal almost instantly is, in most cases, pretty remarkable."
Miller will open her show at the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum in Aiken, South Carolina later this season. The prints are photograph on metal, about five feet by six feet in diameter, a different medium than is often used in displays.
"I wanted something really breathtaking," Miller said. "I see this project as something that would evolve next year, taking pictures of foals in other parts of the country and having a kind of traveling gallery show."
Miller also hopes to have a show in Saratoga Springs, NY, during the race meet there this summer. Proceeds from her work will benefit therapeutic riding centers in the surrounding areas, and Shultz is working to develop a center of her own as well.
"I knew that I wanted to raise money for something, and the connection between horses and humans is so alive in therapeutic riding," Miller said. "I just kind of started this on blind faith that it would all fall into place, and it really just happened."
So far, Miller has captured images from 10 individual births, working toward her goal of images from 12 different foals to display at her first show.
"I shoot with no flash, nothing extra," she said. "I'm used to being around animals and I'm very careful about it. I'm documenting from start to finish, from the moment the water breaks, but I'm really only looking for that one magical moment when they first connect. Those are the images I want to capture."