Q&A: Her photos at Camelot help save horses

Photo by Vickie Anderson

Before she enters the presence of a horse at the Camelot auction house, photographer Sarah K. Andrew approaches with the same respect she would show a world-class Olympic Sporthorse, or a winning racehorse.

To her, the meekest creatures who wind up at auction, and possibly the slaughter pipeline, are just as noble as the loftiest competitors; and, if by taking their picture, she can help tell their story, and change their fates, her volunteer photography will have paid off.

In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, the professional photographer who has volunteered to take the pictures of over 3,000, so far, and author of popular blog Rock and Racehorses, talks about her life photographing horses.

Q: Sarah, you’ve got a deep background photographing horses. How did you get started in this line of work? Did you study photography in school?

Throughout my childhood and teen years, I rode as much as possible, and when I was not in the saddle, I painted, drew, and wrote about horses. Although I studied the equine form at every opportunity and drove my literature and history professors crazy with countless horse-themed papers, I did not pursue a formal degree in art or photography.

I got serious about photography in 2006, when I bought my first SLR camera. I am a self-taught photographer, and I learn by reading everything I can get my hands on and spending countless hours experimenting with the camera.

Once I had a grasp on the basic technical aspects of shooting, I sought out every opportunity I could find, from working for a track photographer, to corresponding with my heroes in the industry, to submitting my work to magazines and newspapers. With every picture I take, I strive to create my own unique artistic voice and vision. My hard work paid off: I work for the Thoroughbred Daily News, I’ve photographed top-level equine athletes from Olympic competitors to Kentucky Derby winners, and my photos are seen worldwide in dozens of books and publications.

Q: When did you start taking pictures of Camelot horses? And, how did that assignment come about?

Cam was purchased by a Bermuda resident who saw this photo, and shipped him to live with her.

In January 2010, I joined the team of Camelot volunteers. Their dedication and positive attitude is a huge inspiration to me. The effort officially began in November 2009, but Lisa Post of Helping Hearts Equine Rescue (HHER) was networking these horses on her own before then. Every Wednesday night, Lisa and a few other HHER volunteers attended the horse sale and cataloged and photographed the horses who were sold to the feedlot and were at risk for being shipped to slaughter.

Once I learned about the volunteer effort, I decided that I wanted to help them, and I contacted Lisa to see if I could photograph the horses on Thursdays after the weekly auction. She thought it was a great idea, as long as it was okay with the proprietors of the auction. I called the auction, got their permission, and in 2 ½ years’ time, I’ve photographed close to 3,000 horses at Camelot. It’s very hard work, it takes a lot of time, and it’s very demanding on my equipment, but it’s well worth the effort.

Ida Howell takes the photos on Wednesday nights, and putting an equine face to the descriptions is a huge help for the network of people who were trying to find homes for these horses. Photographing horses at night in an auction house is a difficult endeavor, and Ida deserves a lot of credit for the hard work she does every Wednesday. There are many people who work hard to keep this effort running smoothly, from the Wednesday night note-takers, to the Facebook page administrators, to my mother, Vickie Anderson, who keeps the list of available horses organized while I work on the Thursday photos.

Cam at a recent show

Q: I recently wrote about a horse, who was spotted on the Camelot website, who wound up in a new life in Bermuda because of your portrait of him. His owner specifically credits your pictures as the deciding factor in her decision to take him. Do you hear this type of story a lot? How does it make you feel?

Yes, there are many fantastic stories out there about people who found their perfect horse at Camelot. Some of these people have told me that the horse “spoke” to them through my photos, and that they would never have bought the horses without seeing the photos. I have a lot of admiration for the people who take a chance on these horses and are able to provide a good home for them. It’s hard work for the volunteers who do the weekly cataloging and photography of the feedlot horses, but it’s a lifelong commitment once someone makes that decision to buy a horse.

Q: What are your goals when doing portraits of Camelot horses? And, what is it about your photography that allows their personality to shine through, even from an auction house?

Once I started documenting the auction horses, it became a very important part of my growth as a photographer. I always do my very best to treat these horses with the same dignity and respect that I show world-class racehorses and dressage horses.

Camelot is one of the only auction houses in the country that allows volunteer networking and photography. All of the volunteers work hard to maintain a respectful working relationship with the auction house. I think that because I approached the photography with professionalism, the Camelot proprietors soon understood that I was not there to sensationalize the situation.

Sarah rides her OTTB Wizard

Every week, the sale barn is full of new stories. There are retired workhorses, earnest yearlings, honest school horses, and just about every breed, color, and level of training that you can imagine. I take it as a challenge to tell these horses’ stories through my photos. The photos have had such an impact on people that I was asked to create a calendar of the “best of” my auction photos. I teamed up with Gina Keesling of HoofPrints, and we created a 2012 calendar called Horses & Hope: My Year at the Auction.

All proceeds from the sale of these calendars are donated to One Horse At A Time (OHAAT), a 501(c)3 charity dedicated to helping horses in need.  The calendar proved to be far more popular than we ever could have expected. We kept selling out of calendars and ended up doing a third print run! To date, we have raised almost $40,000 for OHAAT.

Here’s a link to order the calendar and read some of the press about the project: http://www.hoofprints.com/organizers.html

19 responses to “Q&A: Her photos at Camelot help save horses”

  1. Esther Douglas

    So Glad you did a piece on Sarah. I haven’t been internet surfing for awhile and have only just seen this piece. It takes a very special person to use hours of their time each week to take photos of “lost cause” horses and their only reward is a good feeling. Bermuda has now received 9 Camelot horses and has purchased 11. (two were not sound enough to make the journey but have been given wonderful forever homes) And all these horses were bought from a photograph by Sarah. All nine are now enjoying the sun and surf of Bermuda and one of the latest will be competing in her first dressage show this weekend. And I’d also like to report that CAM is still doing great and will be competing again in the low hunters this year. THANKS again for hight lighting such a wonderful Person.

  2. Ginger Krantz

    Thank you, Susan, for writing this blog post. Sarah’s equine photography is oustanding. Her selfless application of her talent to forward the placement of the Camelot horses empowers us all. Thank you for giving those of us who admire Susan’s dedication a window of understanding into her life.

  3. franjurga

    I never stop marveling at Sarah and what she does. I saw her at Rolex photographing the trot-up of the world’s best eventers…the day after she’d been at Camelot photographing the world’s neediest.

    While this story is about horses in need, on the surface, it is about finding something that you can do to help something or someone that/who needs you. Sarah could go into Camelot and spend a couple of days and have enough great photos for a super calendar or magazine article or even a book but she doesn’t do that, she keeps coming back and keeps helping, and by doing that, became an integral part of the successful new lives of those horses.

    I love my Horses and Hope calendar so much, and what it represents. Thanks, Sarah and Gina, who created the calenar from the photos!

  4. Jennifer Selken

    Thank you to Sarah and all the volunteers at Camelot for all the wonder things that they do 😉

  5. Barbara Wood (Texas)

    I have the calendar, and I treasure it. Such vulnerable faces! I agree that every one is just as worthy as the most famous….and worth saving!

  6. r a worden

    Thanks for taking the photos. You are a Rock ….

  7. donna mccullough

    Thanks to Sarah and all the rest of the volunteers for helping these horses find new homes. Wonderful story.

  8. Off-Track Thoroughbreds Q&A with Photographer Sarah Andrew « Rock and Racehorses: The Blog

    […] of http://www.offtrackthoroughbreds.com for hosting such a great Q&A with me. You can read it here: http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/2012/06/07/qa-her-photos-at-camelot-help-save-horses/. It was such a pleasure to chat about photography, volunteerism, and the Camelot Effort. Like […]

  9. Rachel

    I’ve recently spent many, many hours at Camelot on Thursdays assisting Sarah as she photographs the unfortunate horses who have found themselves left behind in the feedlot and can attest to the amount of hard work and loving care Sarah puts in every week. It’s not about just running in, taking a few quick pictures and running out. With so many frightened and confused horses “quick” just isn’t even a possibility. But no matter how long it may take to gain the trust of an uncertain horse enough to catch him for his turn in front of the camera or to get a horse to stand exactly right Sarah never loses patience or so much as glances at the clock. And even after each horse has been photographed Sarah will quietly walk from pen to pen hoping to get some artistic shots of the horses just being themselves that she can use in order to help gain even more interest in the horses who are anxiously waiting to go home with someone.

    Sarah is an amazing photographer. But more than that she is an amazing person who donates her time week after week despite the countless hours of work it means for her on one of her two only days off each week. Her love of horses and dedication to helping in their rescues knows no bounds and although she would never expect it she deserves every kind word that is said about her and every compliment that is given to her breath taking photography. She makes it very easy for me to be proud to call her a friend.

  10. Nina Eckhoff

    My sister and I bought hip #022 who was unsold from Camelot’s July 13, 2011 auction. She was in the feedlot on Saturday AM with one other horse. Time was literally running out for her. I charged her on my credit card. $200 plus tax. We bought her despite the fact that we thought she was lame and in-foal (she was neither). She’s a six year old OTTB who loves people and is flashy, athletic and scopey. Her registered name is Princess Madeline. She is presently in “boarding school” in Pennsylvania and learning to do something other than race. We bought her because of Sarah’s photos. I also bought three calendars. I picked up the calendars from the post office and opened one in my car. The photos were so hopeful and sad and gentle, that I cried looking at them. This was not an unusual reaction to this powerful series of photographs! I hope there is another calendar in the making for 2012. I will buy more. I am thrilled that the sale of the calendars raised so much money for OHAAT; they are a very worthy horse organization. So, Sarah Andrew affects horses AND people in very significant ways. Thank you, Sarah. Ida Howell, we love your photos, too – you do important work. You save horses in a really beautiful way.

  11. Pia

    Thank you Sarah for your dedication . Without your photo I would have never been united with my Camelot horse whom I will spend the rest of our time on earth with.

  12. Lisa at Helping Hearts

    Thank You Sarah for the time, effort and talent you have dedicated to the Camelot horses. Your photos have put a face to the “unwanted horse issue” — they’re not just numbers and statistics, they are individuals and your photos capture the soul and personality in their eyes each week. Every photo has helped make a difference in a horse’s life and has often elicited a unique back-story on a horse that otherwise may have remained unknown.

  13. Christie Kerr

    It is heartbreaking seeing these horses cast aside as carelessly as used tissues. Sarah’s photographs show the potential they possess. She honors these poor noble souls with the love and respect that they deserve and never got from the owners that heartlessly abandoned them.

  14. Ida Howell

    Thank you Sarah for your hard work & kind words.
    You are my roll model and have taught me how to improve my pictures so they are not just a “butt” shot on Wednesday nights.
    Thank you to everyone who helps to share the CHW album and who have helped thousands of horses find new loving homes and careers.

  15. Vickie Anderson

    Great article- thank you for raising awareness for these horses in need. I’m very proud of my daughter!

  16. Lezlie

    Great post! Thank you for sharing:-)

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