During the past several weeks, one thing has been at the forefront of all our minds at NSLM; our 5th Annual Benefit Polo Match at Virginia International Polo Club in Upperville, affectionately called “Polo”. Last Sunday may have been NSLM’s 5th Polo, but it was my very first polo match. Yes, I’d seen pictures and watched videos of polo – it’s basically hockey on horseback, right? I was woefully unprepared for the amount of power and finesse that took the field Sunday afternoon.
The two teams were made up of top international women polo players. Movie stars, statesmen, local celebrities and members of the public alike flocked to historic Llangollen, where the Virginia International Polo Club (VIPolo) is located, to see these ladies duke it out.
Their skill, strength, and horsemanship are remarkable. As a history nut, I was struck by the connection of this game, taking place in the New World, and its origins thousands of years ago in India. Not only that, but equestrian sports have a rich history right here in Northern Virginia. Llangollen itself is a piece of that history: an 18th century land grant and manor house, which in the early 1930’s became a hot spot of Thoroughbred racing and breeding. The goal was to bring the prestige and competition of Aintree’s Grand National to the fields of Virginia. While the Llangollen race meetings only took place for a few years, they left an expectation of greatness for those to come. Donald Brennan, the current owner, and his family added three polo fields and an arena in the form of the Virginia International Polo Club. Nearly a hundred years after the race meets, excellence in equestrian sport is still tied to Llangollen, only instead of steeplechasing the featured sport is polo.
1932 drawing by Paul Brown, from “Inaugural Llangollen Race Meeting” (c) Paul Brown
5th Annual NSLM Polo Benefit Match, 2015 Photo credit: Douglas Lees
Llangollen Cup, Llangollen Farms 1932, 1933, pencil on paper, NSLM, Gift of Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013.
NSLM Benefit Polo Match 2015, Photo courtesy of Douglas Lees
The inaugural Llangollen race meeting of 1931 was documented by famed equestrian artist Paul Brown. These drawings have now been compiled and published into a new book, Inaugural Llangollen Race Meeting: Drawings by Paul Brown, with featured essayist Dorothy Ours. Ours, a racing historian, is presenting an informal talk about her work on Llangollen and Paul Brown this Saturday at NSLM at 2pm. If you want to find out more about Llangollen, the history of equestrian sport right here in Northern Virginia, or if you’re just looking for a great way to spend your Saturday afternoon, this is it!
The National Sporting Library & Museum recently received a donation of photographs originally from the collection of Liz Whitney Tippett. Ms. Tippett was a champion horsewoman, enjoying great success with racing and breeding Thoroughbreds throughout the 20th Century. In the 1930s, she and her first husband, John Hay “Jock” Whitney, lived at Llangollen Farm in Upperville, Virginia, a site of steeplechase races from 1931 to 1934.
Today’s image is a bit of a mystery. First, a look at the verso (back) of the photograph, which bears a handwritten note.
How fortunate that we live in an age where we can easily show these around! The recto (front) of the photo is below. Click on it to see the enlarged version. In looking closely, I found:
Several picnic parties
The jockey’s tent, named in the caption above
A golf course
There is no indication of a date on the photograph. Looking closely, what can you see? Can you find more details? We’ll be sharing more images here, and you can also view more historic images from the NSLM collections by liking our Facebook page.
I woke up at 3 am on the first morning of the sold-out Two-Day Colin Barker Photography Workshop and groaned. I was the organizer of the program, and it was pouring buckets. The storm woke me up again a half hour before my alarm clock. It was still pouring. I got nervous. I wanted people to have an authentic experience but not this authentic.
Thankfully, by the time I arrived at the Orange County Hounds kennels to meet Huntsman Reg Spreadborough the sky was already starting to clear. Reg had said he would try to delay feeding, and I could hear the hounds baying in complaint even before I opened my car door. Colin had also taken it upon himself to visit Reg in the morning and the night before. I wasn’t surprised. I’d met Colin for the first time the previous day, and every impression I had of him in collaborating on his National Sporting Library & Museum exhibition was confirmed. A soft-spoken man, the artist’s sincerity, quiet passion, and focus come through in his richly-detailed, meticulous images.
It is one thing to see Colin’s finished work in the Part of the Pack: The Hunt at Petworth exhibition on view at NSLM through January 10th. It is quite another to have the opportunity to watch the recognized photographer in action from idea to completion.
Colin is on the constant lookout for raw, earthy, unstaged moments. He was disappointed that it had stopped raining. The photographer excels, even thrives, in pushing himself and his equipment in extremes of weather and low light. He was determined that the group would have a challenging experience and receive a behind-the-scenes-view of a day in the life of hunt staff (while being followed around by Paparazzi at every turn, anyway).
As the workshop participants arrived, we held a brief introduction. It was a great mix of professional, amateur, and aspiring photographers. Colin stressed that he wanted everyone to respect each other’s space as we lined up in the cramped hallway to the kennel interior for the opportunity to photograph the hounds feeding. He advised us to let our lenses acclimate in the humidity and described the pecking order in which the pack would eat.
The kennels were immaculately kept, and it was exhilarating to stand in the midst of over thirty hounds as they pressed up against my legs. I was expecting chaos, but the pack was surprisingly delicate and almost civilized as it fed. Colin discussed at length his motivation for calling his series “Part of the Pack”. It was raw moments such as these.
Next, we followed the huntsman and whip as they exercised the hounds. The hunt staff was obviously keeping the pace slower to give us plenty of photo opportunities. Colin mentioned that the hounds had already followed Reg on a bicycle that morning, their usual routine.
The puppy kennels were the final stop. Colin asked Reg to pick one up and hold it for a while, not something that is commonly done in training foxhounds. It was an endearing opportunity.
Yet, Colin did not want us to leave here. He’d asked the huntsman to discuss the ins and outs of looking after the kennels and hounds year-round. As we gathered around him, Reg was professional, sincere, and open to a wide range of questions. He and the Orange County Hound staff as a whole had set aside hours of their day, and we were so appreciative of their efforts to present an intimate and engaging morning.
As I settled into my car seat to drive back to NSLM, I was reminded that Colin had prepared us for the powerful smells in the kennels. I didn’t even notice the odor wafting up from my favorite hiking shoes until that moment. I had to open the windows, but it was totally worth it. Here was the perfect reminder of my authentic experience.
Back at NSLM we spent the rest of the day in class. It was a gift to listen to Colin’s experiences following the CL & C Hunt and the stories of camaraderie and fortitude that are the backbone of the Part of the Pack photography series as he presented a slide show of his body of work.
We then had a chance to “get our geek on” when he switched gears to share black and white post-processing tips in Photoshop. While many professionals keep their skills close to their chests, Colin was again generous with his knowledge.
Overnight, we were invited to apply what we learned to a small selection of our own photos. There wasn’t nearly enough time, especially after learning that Colin works on a single image for as long as forty hours to coax the most detail, nuance, and contrast out of a raw file. I was honestly a little bit nervous about the critique session, but I had nothing to worry about. When constructive criticism was offered it was tactful and spot on, and Colin seemed impressed with the quality of the work we produced. I thoroughly enjoyed viewing everyone else’s creative angles. Each person in the room had experienced a moment that was their own unique story to share.
Here are some of mine…
My goal was to improve my image processing skills, but in the end I learned the most about taking more time to connect with my subjects, not just to frame them. I think I echo the sentiments of the rest of the workshop participants in wanting to start the weekend over again … maybe this time, with a little bit of rain.