My name is Susan Williams and my studio is windhorseOne Studios.
Website & places you can find my work online
Etsy: Windhorseone Studios
Facebook: Susan Williams
New Book: Horse As Teacher
Center for Fine Art Photography: Susan Williams Gallery
Artisans of Colorado: Susan Williams
Return to Freedom
The Cloud Foundation
Where I am
I currently live in the beautiful mountains of Morrison Colorado and I can honestly call it “home”. I have lived here for five years now but I was born in England and raised in the surrounding horse country of NJ. I somehow knew, when I stepped off of a plane over fifteen years ago, that I needed to live here when I made my first visit to see some family in CO.
Tell us a little about you, what is your background & where do you come from?
Believe it or not a large part of my life was involved in the cutting-edge technology field with organizations that provided products to change and better human life.
Like many young girls horses were my love, passion, and dreams. I could not get enough of Mr. Ed, the Black Stallion and so many others. It was innate in me even though we lived in a city at the time.
I started riding in fourth grade and drawing horses shortly after that. In my mind I was a horse!
Although I majored in chemistry I never gave up drawing until after college.
Much later in life, my pencil was replaced by a camera and soon a great opportunity presented itself. I was invited to study fine art photography with a small group of thirty students from around the world at the International Center for Photography in NYC, leaving my career in the sciences behind forever.
Studies at ICP encouraged me to take my photography beyond visual documentation and objectification into the realm of the invisible; inviting and encouraging contemplation and participation from my art’s audience.
Horses were always a common theme during my studies. After attending ICP I developed and taught programs while managing a digital camera product line for Olympus America. This grew old quickly and I left two years ago to rekindle my passion for the arts and horses, while becoming committed to helping horses who land in unfortunate environments. I believe I can make a difference in their lives by sharing and educating people through my art.
When did you take your first picture?
That is a really good question! I can’t remember the first picture I ever took but I am sure it was the typical holiday family picture. While I was blessed early in life with the ability to draw well, I wasn’t one of those people who knew from early childhood that becoming an equine fine art photographer would become my livelyhood!
However, the first picture I took, which was the start of a series of life changing events, was when my friend handed me his camera, with all sorts of bells and whistles, and asked me to take a photo of him on his horse.
Of course he had put it into one of the pre-programmed modes and all I had to do was shoot! I was hooked and fascinated with photography immediately and signed up for classes at the local community college.
What kind of camera do you use?
I have been using a Nikon D300 digital SLR for the last year. Before that Olympus gave me their E Series of cameras with really great lenses. I kept my fast professional lenses from my old Nikon film camera so it was a logical choice when it became time to upgrade to more pixels.
If you could pick any camera (regardless of price) what would it be?
You know I would have to do some serious research. My first pro camera was a Canon which was stolen and because I was photographing polo events at that time I ended up with a Nikon. They had the fastest lenses on the market.
Now all my photographer friends have high-end Canons but I love my Nikon and I already owned three fast lenses, which you need to photograph horses. For the extra thousands of dollars for the best model I am not sure I need one of the most expensive pro cameras on the market for the few additional features they offer.
Who are your main influences?
I have been profoundly influenced by the writings and photography of Minor White and also John Daido Lori Roshi, a student of Minor White. Years ago when I first read Minor’s work I felt like I had come home; home being a place deep inside of me that could not articulate about how I felt about what I was doing.
White says – “No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer It has chosen“. I can’t say it any more eloquently and it expresses exactly how I feel about photographing the horses that come into my life. I feel that they have chosen me as their messenger.
Other creative influences on me were photographers Keith Carter and Michael Kenna whose work, with its ethereal nature, so elegantly captures the mystery in the everyday. I have had the honor of studying with many of the great names in photography; Duane Michaels, George Tice, John Daido Lori Roshi to name a few.
Right now the horses are my influences and inspiration and it is my calling and desire to share and portray their voices.
What made you first start photographing horses?
A friend handed me a sophisticated camera and asked me to photograph him on his horses in a competitive event. The resulting photographs were just awful! The horse was tiny and the picture had no life.
I had an immediate determination to master both the camera and take great horse pictures. Horses have always been a passion throughout my life so it was easy for my camera to replace my lost pencil art.
Your photographs almost look like they were painted, what is your technique? Or is that a closely-guarded secret?
No it is not a closely-guarded secret! That is my goal and I love it when people say that. I hear it all the time. I am happy to share but first I want to talk about about my creative philosophy!
Horses are elemental and mythic and it is my goal to portray the powerful and magical essence that they represent.
As intricate and sensitive beings, it is my goal to capture the magnificent horse with all its infinite personalities and subtle expressive moods. It is my hope that the viewer experiences the ancient magic and mystery of the human horse connection.
The horse has to be by far this planet’s most noble, majestic, and spirited creature. They are extremely expressive by nature and I feel that working with subdued color palettes enshrouds the horses with mystery, drama, and sensuality.
Luminous and charged with energy, elements of mystery and the unknown are accentuated. There is never a preconceived idea for an image and I love that the final image is a product of nothing more than an intuitive process.
Many of my horses exist in a space that hovers between the familiar and the unfamiliar allowing the imagination to soar freely.
My audience is drawn deeply into the domain of the horse where active participation is encouraged. It becomes a dance as the horses act as mirrors and transport us into unseen worlds.
Photography is a quick way to have access to the horse’s world and there are many outstanding photographers who capture them on film so well already. Perhaps I have the need for my photographs to transcend traditional equine photography, entering the realm of painting, because I drew for so many years.
It is a way to work with my hands and add a personal touch. I work on the computer in programs like Painter and Photoshop where I can paint on my images using a Wacom Tablet which has an electronic paintbrush I can hold in my hand. The step by step process is quite lengthy and varied but I have mastered working in multiple layers with advanced masking techniques.
I also work quite a bit with blending modes. The end results allow me to present the horse with lighting obtained only in studio settings or as a painter could portray. I never use the quick filters found in Photoshop which is why my work is unique.
Your favorite horse breed?
I love and appreciate all breeds of horses but I am very partial to baroque horses like Friesians and Andalsians right now. Their history and close connection to mankind is incredibly powerful.
We are kindred spirits in our evolution with horses. I am drawn to horses with color and I have two Friesian/paint cross yearlings. Ultimately it is not the breed of horse that is important to me but connecting to their spirit that allows me access to intimate and expressive moments in their lives.
Do you (or did you) have an animal that is the muse behind your work?
Horses are my totem animals and always have been, especially black horses. The black horse is a metaphor for esoteric knowledge and horses have an ancient wisdom and knowledge that they are able to share when we listen closely.
The symbolism of the horse provides the fertile grounds and strength for the imagination to fly freely. Right now my two pinto colts are my muses and my windhorses! They live joyously in the “now” and help me live there too!
Where were you the most inspired, but without a camera?
Recently I have become part of a progressive movement in horse consciousness and equine facilitated learning. It started about a year ago when I participated in a weekend workshop where horses were active participants as agents of human growth and change.
The horse has the amazing capacity to mirror our moods and emotions back at us, giving us the opportunity for profound healing and growth. They are also instrumental in teaching us amazing leadership skills.
Any time I can contribute to making the world a better place by expanding my consciosness and then contribute to the welfare of horses and human growth inspires me the most.
This has all led to me to becoming an author in a new series of Horse as Teacher books. It was by amazing grace that I was led and then invited to be one of ten authors with horse visionaries like Stormy Mae, who filmed and produced The Path of the Horse DVD.
My story in the book is about how the mustangs I photograph in the wild and captivity have paralled my life and set me free on my path to leading an authentic life. Wow! I could talk for ages about that but it has encouraged me and inspired me to put the horses voice to my photogaphs.
I hope to continue with my own book which would work with different photographs from all my series. My goal is to help other creatives overcome their limiting beliefs and blocks.
What effect do you think the Internet will have on art and photography in general?
The Internet is an amazing resource for all art forms including photography. This is the digital age and most people have access to cameras and can therefore be creative, which is so important.
The Internet gives people an opportunity to share thier photographs with friends and family and there are tons of free programs that allow them to host their images.
For a professional photographer and artist, it gives me the opportunity to quickly look at and appreciate other artist’s work while learning from them.
It also provides a plethora of opportunities to network and showcase work. Many people don’t have the resources to purchase art but it gives me great pleasure to provide them with a means to enjoy the work.
Has it had an effect on yours?
It has! I have just started participating in the whole social media thing. I was resistant to it because it takes a fair amount of time to set up the accounts and load the imagery and I would rather be creating the work or out with the horses!
Up until this year my sales have primarily been from gallerys, commissions, or doing the art fair road show, which I love. It amazes and delights me to see how my blog has spread around the world in such a short time. I have a personal Facebook account and will probably create one for windhorseOne Studios followed by Twitter.
Which one is your personal favorite image?
I don’t know that I have one favorite image. What I do know is that my body of work called the “windHorse Series” is very special to me. They are my most painterly pieces and they represent how, by the way of the horse, my creativity and art come back into my life.
They each represent different guides in my life and also fulfill the strong desire to paint. Through the physical act of painting an artist can add their personalized touch.
It was my way of going beyond the two dimensionality and often static presentation of a photograph and entering another realm where I could work with light and luminosity. It adds more life to my work.
What else are you passionate about?
I am passionate about life, learning, creativity and where I can make a difference in the world. I am extremely fortunate that this has come to me through the horses.
Creating beautiful art of horses was once a childhood dream but now all my horse dreams have come true! It is my gift to humanity and the horses.
More To Come
Thanks to Susan for answering the interview and sharing her photography. Be sure to subscribe to her photography blog to follow the musings of an equine artist and her two colts, Kairos and Zephyr.
Are you a photographer or do you know an equine photographer you’d like to see featured? Add your name and website in the comments below or drop me a note to get involved.