“I would describe my work as contemporary, soulful character portraits of horses. These portraits are captured with such high definition you can experience every hair, almost feel the velvety texture of the nose, and feel the personality in the eyes of every horse,” says Canberra photographic artist Grace Costa who is uniquely poised to capture the majestic creatures given she has spent her life surrounded by them.
Whether riding them to muster cattle, competing with them in local competitions or teaching horse riding at her father’s horse-riding school, Grace knows horses. So, when she decided to leave her government photographic job recently, the time was right to combine her two passions.
“I was based at the Royal Military College Duntroon in an all-male team for 12 years as a public affairs photographer. I had the opportunity to see and do amazing things in that role,” says Grace of her job working for the Department of Defence – a position that saw her photograph the Queen amongst many other subjects.
“After I had achieved all I wanted to in that role, I made the move last November to go full-time in my photography business where I continue to work as a commercial photographer as well as teaching masterclasses and doing speaking engagements,” says Grace. The career change has also given Grace the time to build her career as a photographic artist, with a particular equine focus.
“Horses are very challenging to photograph, yet predictable at the same time when you understand how they move. Understanding and mastering the art of the horse’s body language is something that compels me to keep working with them,” says Grace who learnt many horse handling skills from her father, a master horseman who has worked with the animals for over 50 years.
And Grace’s decision to photograph the creatures in an industrial setting (as opposed to the wild) is a deliberate one. “I’m not interested in photographing them running in the paddock, like we are used to seeing in equine pictures. I want to capture them like a statue, to focus on their form, character and presence,” says Grace who is always on the lookout for an unusual horse to add to her collection.
And while photographing a horse in this way is as arduous as you can imagine, it’s something that Grace admits she can’t get enough of. “I think I’m addicted to the magic that happens when all things align; the pose, the eye contact, the composition, the lighting, and the expression. It takes so much patience but it’s worth it,” says Grace whose latest collection ‘Spotted’ is centred around the idea that being rare and different is beautiful. In the series, Grace has documented the Appaloosa horse which is known for its unique spots and colours.
“These horses have very strong characters and surprise many people because often they have never seen a horse like them before. They make perfect art for a young child’s bedroom,” says Grace who is also working on another collection called ‘Blooming’ which sees a variety of horses wearing custom floral headdresses with fantastical results.
From choosing the right style of flowers to making sure the headpiece fits on the horse’s head and the bridle, the process is tricky. “You then have to ensure the flowers don’t fall off when the horse shakes his head from the flies! I think the entire team holds their breath until the shoot is over. It’s a bit of a nightmare but the results are worth it, and we love creating them.”