The Artistry of Ellen Cameron: An Invitation to Explore the Secret Life of the Horse

Immersing yourself in the artistry of Ellen Cameron is a little like walking into a room and finding a magic window that allows you to peer into a world at the same time both strange and familiar. You feel as though it is somewhere you have been, sure enough, but not a place that you have explored so as to know it intimately. Ellen has in her work in effect allowed you to tag along with her, from the farmhouse to the barn, or to the field, with both halter and camera in tow, to capture the gentle, intuitive, generous nature of the animal she both loves and is in awe of.

It does not take long while standing contemplating her works of photography before you are tempted to think in terms of the “inner life of the horse,” as though we might understand such a life through the medium of photography. The invitation to do so is clear enough. It does not even seem to you to be a huge leap of faith. It seems rather a matter of trying to understand, and of remaining sensitive to, our equine friends and the circumstances of their day. Is it a blustery day and they are a little easily spooked? Is there a sadness in the barn, drenched by a steady rain? It seems a matter of our being honest with the horse. It seems also, however, a matter of being honest with ourselves. Ellen’s work seems to reflect both. 

You are, undeniably, when in Ellen’s company, intrigued to find that the gentle, intuitive temperament of the horse shines through and takes centre stage. This is far from the noise and complexities of the world of competition. It is the other, interior, side of the horse’s nature and state of being-in-the-world that we visit in the artistry of Ellen Cameron.

The watchfulness and sensitivity of Ellen by which she takes us into the interior world of the horse inexorably draws us into it. We sense that our admission there derives from Ellen’s respective approach, not only with regard to the wonder of the animal, but also with respect to the circumstances of the day, the hour, the moment. It is for her a question of striving to capture the beauty and nature of the present moment in time and place.  Ellen gently approaches the horse to see how they happen to be as she finds them. This is an important recognition of equine mood. We cannot expect a horse to be the same each day, or even as the day unfolds.

Ellen also studies the conditions around her that would influence her artistic result. She considers, too, the context within which the horse lives. What of the lighting? And what of the mood of the barn? She does not take a preconceived artistic agenda to the barn or field. The artistic imperatives move from horse to photographer, not the other way around. She rather ventures to the barn or field to discover what she can find. Her foot is light, her ear attentive. It is this sensitivity on the part of Ellen to the mood of the horse, to the mood of the day, that allows the viewer of her work to enter the barn or paddock with her. We need to step quietly, however, so as not to disturb the mood, the magic, of the barn and its occupants. It is almost as though there is a secret life  there, in the barn and in the field, one that comes to life only in the presence of the rarest of individuals. Count Ellen Cameron among them. Her work is our invitation to that world.

One of Ellen’s works that illustrates this, for example, is entitled “Mascara.” Here is a work that arose from an afternoon exploration riding through fields of snow and ice. The photograph captures the moment when rider and horse paused on top of a hill, alone, the wind gentle but present from the north, snow peacefully falling. The horse visibly relaxed. There were no coyotes to worry about, no strange noises. There was just the unpretentious peace of the countryside. The honesty of silence.

The moment captured in the photograph speaks to a sense of isolation, but not an isolation given to sadness, as might first appear to be the case. It is one more of introspection, even contemplation. There is an underlying confidence in the moment, of having arrived at a place and occasion wherein reflection is not only possible but celebrated. What is evident, then, in the face of the horse seems no less than the shared contemplation of a peaceful country afternoon, under a gentle snow falling from a uniform grey sky. It is a photograph that takes the viewer a good ways into forming a recognition and appreciation for the mood or character of this particular horse, in this particular place, under this particular sky. The photograph suggests that the equine temperament is a complex and beautiful thing. Perhaps this was among the reasons why this photograph won the People’s Choice Award when it was showcased at the Alton Mill Arts Centre. It is certainly among the reasons why Red Scarf Equestrian has chosen it to grace its first fine silken Signature Scarf. Red Scarf Equestrian is hopeful that the beauty and grace and peace of that afternoon will live on embodied in this scarf for many years to come.

All photos by Ellen Cameron

To see a Preview of our 2020 Signature Scarf created in Partnership with Maison Malfroy and the artistry of Ellen Cameron at the Artist Project Toronto on 22 February 2020

Douglas Allen - Red Scarf Equestrian Guest Blogger

Douglas Allen is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Toronto. His historical studies are of late medieval and Renaissance Europe. He is interested in using the lens of identity to explore and understand history, human motivation and action. Douglas is also a writer who is currently writing a novel set in the City of Winnipeg in the 1980’s, which explores the nature of indigenous and non-indigenous relations.

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