Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Downs at Albuquerque: Ellen Rennard

Last night I had the pleasure of having dinner with my friend and fellow photographer Ellen Rennard.  We fixed up a huge salad of fresh greens, had a lovely glass of wine, and then started looking at pictures.  It is such a joy to share work and talk about projects- I need to do more of it for sure.

Ellen has spent the last several years working on a project called The Downs at Albuquerque, a poignant documentation of a racetrack and the people and horses that make up the modern day culture of horse racing.

From Ellen's statement:

Forty years ago, horseracing was the most popular spectator sport in America.  Around that time, I rode a horse on the exercise track at Arlington Park outside of Chicago and, as women were just beginning to ride in big races, I entertained a fleeting dream of becoming a jockey.  Decades later, beginning in 2003, when I was teaching in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I returned to photograph at The Downs at Albuquerque, a thoroughbred and quarter horse racetrack at the state fairgrounds.  Even though horses are now cooled on mechanical hot-walkers and crowds have thinned, much appeared unchanged.  Focusing on the people, horses, and trappings of life at the track, I chose black and white film and silver gelatin prints to suggest the look of photographs from the heyday of racing which still hang on the walls of tackrooms and The Jockey Club at The Downs.  

In spite of what remains, racing has declined, and many small and mid-level tracks have closed.   For a while it appeared that The Downs would move to a new location in the small town of Moriarty, where the track's owners planned to build a $65 million racetrack and casino with more than double the number of slot machines.  When the economy faltered, that plan was shelved.  The lease at the fairgrounds has been extended for two years, but beyond that, who knows.  

One groom told me that most racetracks have become more like bus stations, with strangers just coming and going.  "It used to be that everyone would get together after they had finished with the horses," he said.  "Now it's just a job.  Still, at this track, it's more like the old days."  

My aim is to remind people of the vestiges of the past that still exist in the shadows of the grandstand that overlooks the finish line at The Downs at Albuquerque, and to show that, in spite of the odds, true horsemen and women endure.  For them, the horse still matters.  

Below are some of my favorite images:





Johanna, Fastening the Girth

Tacking Up



Jazz Time Boy

Corazon de Jesus

View the rest of this wonderful project at www.ellenrennard.com.

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