University: Plymouth University
Genre: Conservation Photojournalism
Artist Statement: This work aims to address the question of the continued survival of ponies on the rugged landscape of Dartmoor. The first written record of ponies on Dartmoor occurs in 1012, with a reference to ‘wild horses’. During the mid-1800s Dartmoor was the main source of granite in Britain, and ponies were used during this time as a means of transporting goods. Come the twenty-first century, the pony continues to be used, mainly for recreational pursuits, for locals and visitors.
Each year the ponies, owned by local farmers on Dartmoor, are rounded up and sorted for several purposes, including; riding, farming, transport and more recently, they have entered the human food chain. Dartmoor Conservation Meat, an organisation whose aims ultimately are to conserve the ponies, is creating a market for Dartmoor pony meat around Devon. By eliminating a specific age group it promises to maintain a stable population. This issue raises ethical dilemmas and forces us to question whether we have the right to kill and eat healthy animals, especially those that thrive within a semi-wild landscape?
Because of their hardiness, the ponies are able to continue to survive on the moor throughout the whole year, making them fundamental to the conservation of the landscape. By trampling down old bracken and keeping the landscape trimmed, declining species, such as the fritillary butterfly, are able to thrive. By photographing the ponies in their adopted habitat I aim to display their deep affinity with the land. The pony in this image, is confronting the viewer, and (we can imagine), imploring them to consider the ethics of ‘conservation meat’ and whether this course of action really has a role in twenty-first century Britain.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? For the most part of university I felt like I was drifting through and was constantly questioning myself about where this path would take me, however mid second year was where I felt like I was on the right path after becoming vegan and purchasing Jo-Anne McArthurs book We Animals. I felt so connected to her work emotionally, I knew my photography was destined to lay in this field, for the first time, it just felt right.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I would say that my work, especially Hippophagy falls under the conservation photojournalism genre, to have a body of work exploring conservation issues is truly the dream!
What themes do you find yourself exploring? Since I felt on track with my work, I’ve been exploring issues to do with conservation, animals, and their well-being. I feel so passionate towards these issues, such as the Dartmoor Ponies, that I want to portray work in a way I view those issues. These themes are not explored enough, but they are just so important.
Where did your concern for ponies in Dartmoor arise from? Have you got a unique relationship to this particular landscape? Someone in their third year previously explored the Dartmoor ponies, and I fell in love with his images and how beautifully he had portrayed the landscape and animals that I was inspired to do my own twist on the subject, (although the underlying themes were completely different). While researching I found out Dartmoor Pony meat is available for human consumption. I was on a mission to explore this subject, I love hearing about peoples opinions and this subject was definitely up for a lot of debate.
Have you uncovered any important or uncomfortable information when researching for your work that you could tell us about? As previously mentioned the consumption of the Dartmoor ponies under the act of ‘conservation’ is what had started the project off. In my opinion I think it is wrong on so many levels, and the thought of calling this barbaric act ‘conservation’ just doesn’t add up in my head. This project was exactly the thing I want to be exploring in my photography.
What do you think your images portray to your viewer? This is definitely the question I always struggle to answer. I know what I want my images to portray and that’s a true connection with the subject I’m exploring. In Hippophagy I want my viewers to have a glance into their world, a thought of sympathy for how hard they’ve worked for their status over hundreds of years, and sadly their future.
How do you think a degree in photography has helped you and your work? Now that I’ve graduated, I find myself asking this question quite frequently and I think there’s so many things I have learnt without even realising, such as observing the subject before you photograph or how you put together an image, but the most important thing I think I’ve learnt is how to create a conceptual piece of work, with real meaning and a good story behind an image. Sure, anyone can take a good photograph, but not everyone can create a connection between work and the viewer, and this is key if you want to tell a story through your work or make an impact.
How do you get your work seen? You’re trying to raise awareness of an issue many of us probably don’t know of; how have you used your skill as a photographer to provoke or encourage positive change? Well since I left university, I’ve not managed to create any of the work I really want to as I’ve landed myself a full time job, but from what I learnt at university and my plan for the future, is to create engaging images, in my case animal welfare/conservation. In most cases, people like animal pictures, they’re picturesque and calming to look at so already you have a viewer, but how I hope to draw them closer is by creating that emotional connection similar to that of a human, such as happiness or sadness. This is all dependant on whatever the story behind the work is. It’s important to be truthful through your work but at the same time if it’s a gory subject such as slaughter, not everyone would be willing to look at your images if there’s blood and guts. Referring back to the picture of the Dartmoor pony looking straight into the camera, the strong eye connection with the viewer almost acts as cry for help, he is standing alone, vulnerable and it’s up to the viewer in their position to make a decision on the story.
What are your next steps for this body of work? I would like to continue this work, as I don’t think it's 100% finished but as I currently live 250 miles away from Dartmoor I won’t be able to get there any time soon, but it’s definitely on the list for the future. I’d also love to exhibit this work. I think the images would work best in a gallery and would read well with the viewers.
Who or what are some of your favourite photographers or photobooks? I'd have to say that my top photographers are undoubtedly Steve McCurry, Jo-Anne McArthur and Nick Brandt.