02/20/2013 7:06PM

Photographs and memories



From time to time I ponder the question: what's the measure of a person’s life? 

I don’t know why I’m a horse racing photographer but know I never could have been anything else. My path has always been so certain, it's as if preordained.  Yet I sometimes think about the fact that, instead of having children, my life boils down to countless thousands of photographs.  Is that better than children...or worse...or simply different?  And when I'm older, will my answer to that question be the same as it is today?

Whenever I watch that scene in Blade-Runner when Rutger Hauer's character speaks of his mortality - and tears at the heart of anyone who's ever considered their own death - it reminds me of photography.

Photos offer a person a way to look back and remember particular times, but rarely does one get the chance to revisit an entire era of their lives. I had that chance a few weeks ago.

The Thoroughbred Times went bankrupt and their assets were recently sold via auction, in pieces and parts.  Photographers who had submitted freelance photos to them over the years – images sent “on spec” in hopes they would run – were put in a very uncomfortable and worrisome position.

Most of us were owed money for photos the Times used but hadn't paid for in the past year or more (they paid very little per photo, so it took many published photos to be owed hundreds of dollars, as I was). Yet not only would we never be paid for published work but now all of our submitted photos – our copyrighted property, never owned by the Times – were being offered to the highest bidder.  To add insult to injury, the online auction page made no mention of the fact that photographers still owned the rights to the photos – leaving some prospective bidders to assume they could use the photos for anything they wanted.  Someone from a highly respected company interested in bidding contacted me beforehand, for instance, saying they hoped to not just use the photos for their own purposes but also to “charge others to use the photos in their own exhibitions, publications, etc., always giving credit to the photographer when known.”  (When I explained to them that would be illegal without paying, they said the realized they would of course have to pay, too, and had simply not included that in their e-mail).

After a photographers' uproar and flurries of conversations with the trustee – during which time he received a crash course in Photo Copyright Law 101 – a 4-day window was created in which photographers could go to the Times’ office to retrieve photos.  In the 'photo morgue' were 250,000 photos - old and new, in manila envelopes - crammed in 39 large filing cabinets. There were also hundreds of thousands of digital images – but, for me, my career with the Times ran from 1985 through 1992, so the bulk of my images there were prints.

And so I drove to KY for a couple of days and in the now-dormant, chilly, dusty Times’ building, I settled in to rifle through cabinets and memories.

Surprisingly few photographers showed up. I must admit to being motivated, in part, by a combination of both spite and concern as to who may buy the collection.  Bill Straus was in attendance and Suzie Picou-Oldham spent time there, too.  Enzina Mastrippolito (better known as Z because, frankly, try to remember Enzina Mastrippolito) and Patricia McQueen were there for all four days.  Like me, they started submitting photos to the Times in the '80s - Z in 1983 and Patricia three years later.  Unlike me, they stayed with the publication until it folded - which, if you do the math, adds up to decades recording the sport.  

Z also hired several friends to help with file-diving, and the mood was jovial over the hours.   We laughed, and often cringed, at some of our own – and others'– not-always-great images.  We sometimes applauded an exceptional photo – although there wasn’t much time for that. Trying to wade through 250,000 photos, in a hurry, in a cramped space, is a mighty time-consuming task.

We reminisced about photographers no longer living but whose images remained – Tony Leonard, Jim Raftery, Tina Hines.  And we talked about the subjects in our photos that were now gone.  Go For Wand and Izvestia live on in printed form, and Chris Antley forever smiles with his enchanting eyes.  I want to warn Izvestia's groom to not let the horse run in the Rothmans, and I want to tell Chris to take better care of himself.  And photos of an aged Woody Stephens, smiling on horseback, evoke a far more comfortable - if still poignant - emotion.

Above:  Chris Antley, Belmont Park, 1987.

Above:  A gentle-natured Izvestia at Belmont, 1990, and Go For Wand and Randy Romero after the 1989 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Above:  One of the more amusing folder titles.

We laughed about horses we had long since forgotten or, heck, never knew – and how many photos did we really need to send in of Akiko and Upon My Soul (no offense to either horse)?  We chuckled at oddly-captioned envelopes - our favorite, perhaps, being GENERIC BACKSIDES.  And we got downright silly when digging through what seemed like 100,000 prints of horses like Fly So Free and Hansel.  Apparently, neither colt lifted a hoof without one – or all - of us testing our high-speed motor drives.

Youthful faces, still in the game nowadays, peered back from images more than two decades old – Lisa Lewis, Tom Bohannan, Nick Zito, Mike Maker.  Horses who became stallions were recorded in their youthful ways, too – Dixie Brass, Waquoit, In Excess.  And mares like Toussaud and Personal Ensign were captured forever in racing fitness.

Among my 8 years of photos were countless memories.  I’m sure many of you remember when Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold was sold at auction for $2.9 million in that really weird environment – a Belmont Park parking lot.  And how about when Quiet American couldn’t run in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup and instead powered home the winner in the then-NYRA Mile?  Remember basketball star Terry Dehere spending time with the equine Dehere - but being too afraid of the colt to get up close to him at the barn?  And how about Langfuhr’s retirement party up at Gus Schickedanz’s farm - when the guest of honor thought it was just dandy to display his, uh, readiness for his next profession throughout his appearance? 

Photo after photo brought back racing's moments - some wonderful, some not so much.

We didn't have time to go through every folder - not by a long shot.  But I left Lexington with a crate filled with thousands of pictures - some dented or discolored, most to be tossed in a trash can - and a smile on my face.  I don't pretend to have a job that's overly important, such as my mother or father (a 25-year nursing instructor and a highly acclaimed scientist/author). Yet when I, and Patricia, Z, and other photographers are no longer here, our photographs will remain as tangible records of racing's moments.  That is of tremendous comfort to me.

Above:  Terry Dehere helps lead Robert Brennan's colt Dehere, Chris McCarron up, to the Saratoga winner's circle. Back at the barn afterward, as much as we begged, we could not convince Terry to pose up close to the colt.  "He's  really big!," he kept saying, in a good-natured way.  

Above:  Tom Bohannan with his 1992 Preakness winner Pine Bluff.  Tom also won the Preakness the following year with Prairie Bayou.

Above:  King's Swan, the King of Aqueduct, at, well, Aqueduct.  Looks like Chris Antley up.

Above:  Black Tie Affair at Churchill Downs during 1991 Breeders' Cup week, the year he won the Classic.

Above:  Lisa Lewis and her stakes-winning American Royale, Saratoga 1991.

Above:  Private Terms, Aqueduct paddock, 1988.

Above:  Woody Stephens, Saratoga, 1987.

Above:  Langfuhr with Gus Schickedanz and Ben Walden at Langfuhr's retirement party, 1997.  

Above:  Dixie Brass, Belmont Park, 1992.

Above:  Alysheba at Saratoga in 1987.

Above:  Bet Twice, Saratoga, 1987.

Above:  Quiet American wins the 1990 NYRA Mile, Aqueduct.

Above:  Gulch returning to the winner's circle, Jose Santos up, Aqueduct, 1987.

Above:  Classic winner Gallant Man at age 30, Spendthrift Farm, 1984.

Above:  Winning Colors at Aqueduct, 1989.

Above: The 1991 Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold, in a Belmont parking lot before being auctioned, and in the ring, 1992.  

The Keeneland Library was the successful bidder on the Thoroughbred Times' photo collection for a price of $20,500.  That helped ease many photographic minds.

Patricia McQueen also wrote a blog about her days at the Thoroughbred Times' great photo hunt: http://www.wageringresource.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=294:memories-of-thoroughbred-greatness&catid=7&Itemid=101

The Rutger Hauer scene in Blade Runner, in many people's opinions (including mine) one of the most powerful death scenes in movie history: