Seeing the unseen in equestrian art

In French, “Laurence” is not an unusual name for a woman, and, as it happens, it is the first name of the sensuous equestrian photographer Laurence Anne Guillem, whose large-scale works are on view at the Bedford Post Inn throughout this month.

The four prints — one of which is 40 by 72 inches — are images of the Lusitano, a powerfully muscled Portuguese breed once used in bullfighting and now appearing in the discipline of dressage. (The photographs were taken in Portugal in 2014 and ’15.)

But these are not action shots, although Guillem (gee EM) has photographed Greenwich Polo Club matches, nor are they standard full-length portraits. Rather Guillem’s cropped, textured black-and-white images — capturing the powerful curve of a neck, the serpentine braid of a mane or tail — are designed to convey an intimacy with these animals, as if you could peer into their souls, as it were. 

“She is really unique in her ability to see what can go unseen,” says Sarah Aquilino, art director for the restaurants at the inn. “Her equine photography captures powerful and deep emotions, not just form in its artistic presentation.”

 “I think horses are definitely sensuous creatures, embracing the masculine and the feminine, which I think appeals to women,” says Guillem, who has also photographed Andalusian horses in southern France and mustangs rescued by Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary & Preservation in California. “The sensuality in them emanates from every horse whether they’re mares, stallions or geldings. Some people see this as a duality, but I see (this masculinity and femininity) as complementing each other.”

These photographs also speak of Guillem’s quest for connection with her subjects.

“I like to portray anything and anyone,” she says. “The Maasai — I was in Tanzania — trees, birds. Whatever it is, I’m looking at it intimately.”

To achieve this intimacy, Guillem uses a Canon digital camera. “Mostly, I work with black and white and sepia tones, because that’s what I resonate with,” she says. “But I do color photos. I like color and I employ it.”

Guillem prints her own photographs and is careful in her choice of paper. “I also crop a lot,” she says. “I’m not necessarily interested in the whole horse. I’m interested in personality. When you get closer, you read the soul of the horse….It is a beautiful moment when that happens.”

She wants her viewers to have a similar experience, to find no impediment between the eye and her subjects. That’s why she tried an experiment with the photos in the Bedford Post Inn show. Instead of offsetting them with a white frame in the classic manner, she mounted them on aluminum and laminated them. 

“When you look at the photographs, there’s no distraction, and that’s powerful in a sense,” says Guillem, whose collectors include Ralph Lauren. “It’s part of the evolution of a photographer, and I’m very happy with the results.” (To see one of her classically framed photos, stop by Ride:  Equestrian Lifestyle Sport in Bedford.)

Photography, she says, was “there in me,” though it took a while to emerge. As a teenager in La Rochelle, France — a city on the central west coast of France from which New Rochelle gets its name — she would borrow her father’s camera. But she studied art and when she set sail from France 20 years ago with her then husband, an American who was an avid sailor, it was a film camera she picked up to record wildlife at sea. On her own in Manhattan, she was in fine arts for 10 years. When she finally took up still photography, it was, not so coincidentally, about the time horses came into her life.

Now Guillem makes her life in Amenia, New York, where she had and lost a horse that she calls her “soul mate.” The heartbreak has prevented her from riding.

But now it’s time.

She is ready to get back on the horse.

For more on Laurence Anne Guillem’s work, visit windhorsephoto.com. The exhibit of her photography at Bedford Post Inn is in the Lounge, which is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For more on that, call 914-714-1448 to set up an appointment or email masdesigns@gmail.com.

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