WORDS Catherine Randall Berresheim
Renee Lowery’s Horses of Iceland photographs are not merely snapshot images of these magnificent creatures; they are indeed classic wildlife portraitures, which capture the personality, mood, and power of her favorite subject. In addition, this equestrian collection features panoramic frozen landscapes that highlight the harsh tundra these Icelandic horses inhabit.
Lowery began her career focused on shooting landscapes of the Mississippi Delta and Tennessee landmarks. The accidental death of her father five years ago brought her an unexpected gift. She inherited his Tennessee walking horse farm and two-dozen horses. Lowery began photographing horses simply as a tool to find homes for these animals. “I started taking my camera with me as I worked on the estate. I fell in love with them,” she says. Over the next few years her passion took her to Wyoming and to Craig, Colorado, for the Great American Horse Drive. Each spring cowboys from the Sombrero Ranch herd horses across 60 miles of Colorado countryside from their winter pasture to their summer fields. “It brings you to tears to see 600 horses go past you. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Lowery says.
So how does a country girl end up in Iceland? “I’ve seen pictures of Iceland and wanted to visit there for a long time. Two girlfriends from my Wyoming trip invited me to go with them,” Lowery explains. She made this journey for the sole purpose of photographing these special beasts. She spent ten days on the South Coast of Iceland in late May.These images are truly breathtaking. They are a work of contrasts between the brutal climate balanced with the beauty and the brightness of the sunlight against the snowcaps and the majesty of the Icelandic horse.
This breed is specific only to this place. The coats of Icelandic horses are noticeably thicker, almost fury compared to other breeds. “They have a double layer coat, to keep them warm in the winter wind,” Lowery says. In May they were just starting to shed. It is also a smaller horse, standing only thirteen hands high. Vikings brought these horses over mainly to be used as pack animals and to herd sheep in the Highlands.
Icelandic horses are bred to be friendly. “They come running as soon as they see you. They pull on your hat; nip you in the back of the leg. They pester you to death to pet them.” Unable to hide her childlike enthusiasm she adds, “It was the best trip ever!
“The morning at the Skógafoss Falls there were 50-mph winds, and the temperatures were below freezing,” Lowery says. The spray soaked the lens as she worked. “It froze over, and I’d wipe the lens clean and then turn back around to shoot more.” This black-and-white shot of a lone horse mid-step on the dark river rock, set against the backdrop of the water paused in ripples, appears otherworldly.
In one image, a pure-white horse is caught prancing in front of an old barn. Another features a herd of chestnuts suspended in full gallop.
Lowery’s favorite photo was taken at the Vatnajökull Glacier located in Vatnajökull National Park. Emma, the white horse, and Eric, the dark horse, appear as if they posed for their photo. The jagged swells of ice frame their soft bodies, echoing the extreme contrasts. In another color shot at the same location, a palomino stands tall, her blond mane blowing in the wind as if she were on a fashion shoot. The clear sky and the glacier background only accentuate her demure demeanor.
When asked about her creative process she said, “You can’t plan it. You can’t tell what they are going to do.” Instead, “I started shooting as they were running. I love to shoot their movements.” She then took the field shots of the environment. Afterward, she studied the possibilities. “I sat down on the ground and just looked. I looked at the background and the light. And then I started walking around and began shooting. I was right up in there with them,” Lowery says, “waiting for the right moment.” For hours they circled one another. The compositions themselves dictate whether she will print in black and white or in full color.
The work with the horses offers a connection to her father. “He was a difficult person sometimes. I could never be close to him when he was alive . . . ” her voice trails off and grows quiet, even reverent. “I kind of feel like this is a connection we never had,” Lowery says.Lowery is already planning her return trip next year. “I just saw such a small portion of the land. Around every corner there is something beautiful,” she says. “I just have to go back.”
For more information visit www.reneeloweryphotography.com.