Horse by Jill Greenberg

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Jill says: “My obsession with horses began at the early age of six.
What is it that makes young girls project so much onto these
gorgeous animals? I drew them, painted them, sculpted them,
collected plastic models of them, read stories about them, and rode
them. When I saw the same happening with my young daughter, I
decided it was time to return to my primary muse. It had been more
than thirty-five years since my first attempts to capture the grace
and musculature of these animals, and I finally had a black beauty
in the studio and the skill to render him completely. Just to see
the magnificent creature standing outside his trailer was beyond
exciting. Those of us who live in cities easily forget the scale
and power of large animals. The horse project is not only an homage
to the physique of these sexy beasts but also an exploration of the
paradoxical gender identities cast onto this unique animal.
We see them as masculine, strong, muscular, even phallic. Yet they
have been made subservient, so their position in the world relates
to the role women continue to occupy. Horses are both masculine and
feminine, dominant and submissive, mastered and wild. Their raw
power and their innate sexual energy are harnessed by both men and
women. My photographs focus on the animal’s body; on cut, striated
muscles under shiny, cropped hair; on crimped manes and windswept
forelocks; on the strong shoulders and hindquarters of Baroque
breeds like the Friesian and the Andalusian. The colors I digitally
hand-painted are associated with the feminine, yet the formal
approach and strength portrayed is decidedly masculine. But the
horse’s rich history of ownership and usefulness to humankind comes
out of an equally long history of forced submission. [ES2]Horses
must submit to the bit. Until quite recently, it was universally
accepted that horses needed to be “broken” by their owners. The bit
is a piece—or multiple pieces—of metal that interface with the
tongue and mouth. An aggressive rider will yank the reins, which
pulls the bit deeper into the mouth, gagging the animal. Items of
tack called martingales, which tie the head down and force it to
stay low, with the neck arched , are used to win points in dressage
tournaments. This is called rollkur, or hyperflexion. Several
images in this book show rollkur, but the position had been
prompted by no tools save a carrot to encourage and direct the
horse’s head. There are special bridles for jumping events that
even shut horses’ mouths completely. The bits and bridles are used
to control and manipulate raw, natural power, much in the same way
that women’s movement[ES4]-restricting apparel, supporting
undergarments, and especially high-heeled shoes can be painful and
limiting. I photographed bits, which, when taken out of context,
suggest the appearance of sadomasochistic bondage gear. Which is,
in fact, what they are. My research into the harsh practices of
equestrian oppression led me to discover a similar tool for use on
women dating to the 1600s, called a scold’s bridle, designed to
punish and silence mouthy women. The bridle was equipped with not
only a serrated piece of metal to be inserted into a woman’s mouth
but also, at times, with large ears so that the woman resembled an
animal, to further the victim’s humiliation as she was paraded
around on a lead in public. British scholar Gavin Robinson has
written about the horse as central to power in past cultures: Some
punishments were very heavily gendered. The scold’s bridle
symbolized the idea that women were like animals, because horses
were made to wear bits and bridles. But there was also the
practical effect that the bridle stopped a woman from speaking.
Speech was said to be one of the main things that set humans apart
from all other animals. By taking away her power of speech the
bridle made a woman more bestial in practice as well as in theory.1
Ultimately, I uncovered an historical incident that both signifies
and transcends: a moment that has become a locus in my work to
spotlight the intense emotion associated with the continued failure
of feminism. The account is that of Emily Wilding Davison, a highly
educated British suffragist. In 1913 she walked onto the Epsom
Derby racetrack in the midst of a horse race in an attempt to pin a
symbolic suffragist flag on a horse, but collided with and was
trampled by Anmer, King George V’s horse. In that one visceral
moment, the idea of the horse and the idea of feminism manifested
itself for posterity, in a woman’s failed effort to halt the
forward motion of the animal of the most powerful man in the
land—his surrogate, his racehorse. Recent work has led me to
sketches for a sculpture to commemorate this event. A monument to
the failure of Feminism. Interestingly, a life-size statue
commemorating Emily Wilding Davison would also serve to remind us
that, in the United States, only one in eight statues celebrate a
woman’s achievements (Harper’s Index May 2011). But more on the
form of the horse. Their heads and necks are remarkably phallic,
and I have chosen to exploit this in my photographs. I have long
been concerned with “exposing the phallus” in a playful, mocking
way. The horse’s neck is presented as a confrontational image. In
general, the shapes and features in the photographs are not
manipulated at all. The extent of the digital imaging work that I
do varies, but it is primarily concerned with changing color,
shading, and shine. These animals were photographed in makeshift
studios set up in the ring at stables in and around California and
outside Vancouver, as well as running free outside their barns. I
used a camera better suited for studio portraiture so as to capture
the highest-quality image possible. Chasing untrained horses with
multiple, flashing strobe lights popping wasn’t the safest way to
take photographs, but I survived, and it was worth it.”

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