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BAND OF REBELS : White Horses of Camargue

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By Drew Doggett

I’ve always had a passion for horses. Like many of my other subjects, I’m particularly interested in breeds that are wild, have overcome a unique set of circumstances or have an interesting heritage; this is what prompted my first excursion to capture wild horses in Sable Island in 2012. When I discovered the horses of the Camargue and their impressive prehistoric lineage, prominent features and symbiotic relationship between them and their caretakers, I was instantly captivated. These horses also have distinctive white coats and amplified musculature, giving them an otherworldly appearance. It felt like an obvious and natural extension of my practice to travel there to make my newest series, Band of Rebels: White Horses of Camargue.

Camargue in the south of France is very humid, so the summers are heavy and the winters are very cold; one environmentalist described it aptly as a “watery desert.” The brackish, dark water appears somber, and coupled with the vast, wide land the territory can seem daunting. The natural qualities of the territory in Camargue relayed the resilience and rusticity of these horses since they’ve adapted to live in these often trying conditions to retain their freedom to roam this beautiful, open land.

The story of their caretakers, the gardians, adds to the horse’s mystical narrative. Dating back to the 1500s, the gardians have looked after the horses by earning their respect. The gardians, also known as ‘cowboys of the Riviera,’ live deep in the marshlands in single story homes; their lives revolve around the Camargue horses well-being. Their relationship with the horses, built on centuries of trust, was fundamental to documenting the horses in such close proximity.

One of the characteristics of these horses that makes them immediately recognizable is their large, expressive eyes because when looking at them, it’s almost as if they see deeply into your soul. This effect is doubled by being in their proximity; their muscular makeup and innocent, white coloring coupled with the rich coloring of their eyes makes them fantastical.

The Camargue horses are “born from big spaces” and while the land is seemingly endless, the territory is also made up of a maze of marshlands where the horses spend a large part of their lives. This fact has had a large impact on their identity, so I felt compelled to document this relationship by capturing the Camargue horses galloping towards my camera at high velocity, intensified by their splashing water from the marshlands within feet of my camera. I also became fascinated with the painterly effect of mud and water on their pristine white coats.

Captivated by the relationship between the horses and their caretakers, I set out to create a short film which would accompany my still images and detail the gardian’s point of view coupled with sweeping panoramas of the horses galloping through the Camargue marshlands. The breathtaking footage is complemented by an original score by Christopher Ward, an Oscar and Grammy-winning composer. The score is meant to mimic the complicated yet breathtaking expanse of the Camargue land, as well as the unique nuances of the horses and gardians relationship.

Band of Rebels: White Horses of Camargue will be featured in two upcoming equestrian festivals; The Winter Equestrian Festival and the Tryon Equestrian Festival. The works from the series will also be available on my website.