Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Grounds For the Sublime

Today Kim, Skylar and I had our first family outing in quite some time. Since my parents moved out here in October, the demands on our time have been so intense that getting all three of us together has been extremely difficult. But although Skylar enjoys her time alone with mom and dad, she has expressed a strong desire to do one or two things each week as a unit. So when she learned that the stable where she has begun taking "English" riding lessons would be participating in an equestrian event out at the Pima County Fairgrounds this weekend, she proposed that we find a way to go as a threesome.

And we did, though her mom was very tired from a late night out dancing and her dad knew he should probably stay home and tend the mesquite instead. What with all the new media in our lives, staying on the same page even when we are together can prove quite a challenge. Luckily, having something as interesting to watch as horse jumping helps to keep distractions at bay. The outing was definitely a success, as reflected both in Skylar's good mood and the fact that her mom was able to catch up on her sleep afterwards with a rare afternoon nap. Not to mention that I was finally able to put my telephoto through its paces. It didn't hurt that Kim stopped to buy a fetching "bad guy" hat on the way to the event:

Skylar is almost as tall as her mom now which makes me do a double-take remembering the telephoto shots I took of them on the beach when she was two

Since Skylar's aim is to learn how to jump, I figured that I could indulge myself by taking lots of horse-and-rider shots, even if they didn't turn out to be pleasing from an aesthetic standpoint. Luckily, the overcast skies and the ease of getting a good vantage point enabled me to take some pictures that I can be proud of, even if looking at them makes me anxious about the prospect of my daughter flying through the air like this:

The expression on the face of this rider captures my own feeling watching her jump though the smiling man in the background seems to have taken it all in stride

For her part, though, Skylar didn't seem to be intimidated. She carefully studied each rider's navigation of the course, noting mistakes in posture or attitude. One horse refused to go over a jump twice in a row, disqualifying his understandably saddened rider. But Skylar insisted that this failure was at least partially the fault of the rider, since horses can sense when any trepidation in their riders. Here she is watching the action, looking, as I told her when I showed her the shot, "fiercely sophisticated":

I love watching Skylar when she is intent on watching something because her eyes seem to burn throgh their target

I've seen horse jumping on television before, since my mother was -- and remains, despite her condition -- a huge aficionado of all things equestrian. But seeing an event live for the first time I was struck by just how difficult it is for the horses to make it over jumps without dislodging the rails. It's sort of like they're playing pick-up-sticks in midair. As the state of these rails indicates, failure is common:

Somehow the bearing of the rider in the background here is easier to appreciate out of focus since the elegance of her line is easier to discern

Watching the riders interact with their horses, it's clear how close the bond between them can be. Kim and Skylar were particularly taken with one team, whose affection for each other was especially obvious. Here they are watching the interaction:

Kim and Skylar study what they called the cute horse and its rider interacting with each other

And here is the sort of communication they were watching, which was enough to warm anyone's heart:

The rider of the cute horse expresses her love for the animal

As it turned out, this rider was feeling apprehensive about the competition ahead, so her mentor suggested that she take the horse across the way for a few more practice runs. Skylar didn't mind, as she got to watch them from a new vantage point:

This horse definitely was cute insofar as a horse can be cute and seemed friendly as well

The combination of Kim and Skylar's matching pea coats, the overcast skies and Kim's new hat made for many excellent photo ops. Because I do like to capture people interacting with each other instead of posing for the camera, I stepped back and let my telephoto provide insight:

Skylar ruminates while her mom partakes of the New Media

As I photographed mother and daughter today, I was reminded just how rapidly their way of relating to each other can change. One minute they each seem lost in their own little world. But then everything shifts and they are united by a common purpose:

Kim takes a mobile phone photo of her and Skylar

Amusingly, however, the surest way to disrupt that solidarity is to let them know you're taking their picture. Sometimes one of them will pose; sometimes the other. But getting them both to acknowledge the photographer simultaneously is nearly impossible, ensuring that even posed shots have a "candid" quality. I'll freely admit, though, that the results are usually more interesting than portrait studio smiles:

I love the expression Kim has in this photo which more or less captures my sense of our relationship

Since I was the only one with a camera, I didn't have many opportunities to insert myself into the scene. But I felt it was important to record my presence, however imperfectly, lest I delude myself into thinking that my too-solid flesh has been melted down into the "objective":

I sort of look like a grizzled Westerner in this shot which I can live with

There's something about being outside on a day like today, when the sky seems especially big and the wind tears right through you, that makes it easy to fantasize about a life on the range. As I walked through the barn today and out among the horses, I remembered how I had those dreams as an eight-year-old in rural Pennsylvania, where everything is much smaller-scaled but the fantasy of The West was still in full effect. It didn't take much to reactivate those dreams this afternoon:

That hat was made for photographs and reminds me of Westerns

Even in the context of a proper equestrian event, with English saddles and classic riding outfits, the immensity of the landscape will not be denied. And that's what makes subtle exchanges like this one between Kim and Skylar seem all the more precious, because they are taking place amid a vastness that threatens to render human-scaled existence inconsequential:

Kim turns toward her daughter in a moment of tenderness

Maybe the biggest appeal of horse culture doesn't lie in the extremity of performance, the race or the jumps, but in the way that those moments of literally superhuman activity are framed by the careful preparations that make them possible.

When we watch horse and rider at the apex of a staggeringly high jump, we are witnessing a state of exception painstakingly curated by the unglamorous labors of the day-to-day. I actually think that there's a lesson in this that goes beyond horses and the culture of sport more generally. Too much in our world inclines us to skip the process and take a shortcut to the finished product. But deep pleasure comes from remembering all the energy expended along the way, not just the burst at the end of the journey.

The winner of the Grand Prix event today in flight

That's the winner of today's Grand Prix event showing the form that made him and his horse triumphant. It seems almost impossible, as if they were flying instead of jumping. I could imagine this kind of shot as the subject of one of those inspirational posters. But instead of seeming trite it strikes me as truly sublime.
Tags: daughter, days in the life, everyday, family, photography
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