*Photo above by Deb Lee Carson
This Mustang’s Life is kicking off a brand new series “10 Questions With ______” with the one and only Deb Lee Carson! Deb, an accomplished wild horse photographer sure has a way with words and the camera. She lures you in with her stories and takes your breath away with her images.
Deb was kind enough to answer my questions, and I was blown away with her answers. Enjoy this post, because I surely did :)
1. For those who don’t know you, what do you want people to get out of your wild horse photography when they see it?
I want my viewer to come away with a sense of awe and respect for America’s wild horses. I want them to have an emotional reaction to each piece, something that tugs at a memory or leaves them longing to know more, or in some cases an emotion that provokes discussion which may lead to solutions for America’s wild horses. Those emotions may even be of anger, depending on the role the viewer has in relation to the wild horses, such as a rancher or politician or sensitive taxpayer. Each image is a way to bring the wild ones to life by placing them in their distinctive landscape so the viewer immediately understands they are wild versus a horse standing in someone’s backyard.
2. Do you have a favorite photo? If so can you share it with us?! And tell us a little bit it about it.
Well, isn’t this a tough one? I have several and it depends on the model. Our own quarter horses, our recently adopted daughter of Blaze, Ms. Pinnacles, my granddaughter’s with a former wild one, or Blaze himself, or possibly an image captured with my awesome friend, Jamie, last July at McCullough Peaks near Cody, Wyoming. Out of all of those possible scenarios, I would pick this one of Blaze.
It was captured on a late May afternoon in 2015 along the North Ridge in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It was the eastern most part of Blaze’s range and it is approximately a thirty minute hike in from the loop road. Between two small buttes is a narrow saddle and the band had gone ahead of Blaze who was lingering behind. I had moved to this narrow area to photograph him not realizing I had totally messed with his plan and was preventing him from peacefully trailing his harem. He lowered his head, did a dance, and then he chose to sail around and behind me to lower ground to reach his girls.
Afterwards, I felt bad, because I had been disrespectful of his space. So I use this image as a reminder I am in their home, but it is also an image I will always cherish because of him shaking that great mane and lowering that amazing blue eye and asserting his wildness to get where he wanted to be. I have never been able to create this image exactly like I want it, so consequently I have never offered it is a print. It will become a part of the 2018 Stallions exhibit and I anticipate between now and then I can have it right. That spirit horse will forever be missed.
3. Beyond photography do you have any plans to get into the politics of wild horses?
No, I believe that as a private citizen I can have more influence than as a politician who is limited to how the media perceives and reports the political issues. Unless someone knows something I do not about politics, I will continue to use my art as a driving force in solving the adoption gap with our wild horses in America.
4. What is the best part of being on the CSU team for TRNP?
Working as a research tech for CSU allows me to use my equine reproductive experience, my awe for the landscape in TRNP, and my love of the wild ones, and the best part of being on the team is that we are working on something that could be for the greater good of the wild ones! I strongly feel that I am a part of a bigger picture and if the contraceptive research is a positive outcome it has the potential to have positive far reaching affects for the wild horses of America, and the best part of being here is the opportunity to witness the heartbreaking and heartwarming stories. We have laughed, stood in awe, cussed, and cried on many occasions.
5. Do you have any tips for aspiring wild horse photographers?
Be respectful of their space—you are in their home, where they sleep, eat, go to the bathroom, raise a family, have sex. Don’t be a part of the habituation problem; leave them wilder than you found them. Be patient. Listen to who they are. Shoot from your heart. Invest in a long lens so you can be respectful, 400mm minimum or better yet, just put them in the landscape! That is the ethical responsibility as a wild horse photographer.
The technical side of photographing wild horses uses the same simple rules for any type of photography: know how to use Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO to obtain the ultimate exposure of your image. Understand how to use depth of field, Aperture, so you can create emotion in your image, use a high shutter speed to freeze movement and ensure sharpness, and control those settings with ISO. First and foremost know how to use those three settings rapidly. You do not need high end, expensive equipment, but you do need to know HOW to use your camera out of the program mode. It’s not the gear that captures a compelling image, it’s the heart.
6. Do you prefer to shoot by yourself or with friends?
Both. I do my best work alone when I can get lost in what I am doing and completely listen to the moment, no distractions, quietly sit and wait, follow my instincts. On the other hand, I LOVE to share with other likeminded individuals, because reminiscing is a part of friendship and growing older. Sharing moments with the wild ones and friends is a bond that is priceless and forever.
7. Do you ever watch the horses without a lens?
Yes. Watching and listening and ‘feeling’ what is happening with the subject matter allows me to understand the wild ones even better. By understanding their individual personalities and quirks, their habits, and their movement allows me to anticipate what they may do at any given moment. It is a two-fold endeavor; I get to immerse myself in who the wild ones are to be able to anticipate that heart stopping moment to share with my viewer. It is a win/win!
I prefer to be able to just watch and listen, but with a hectic schedule and the demands of time, it is a rare occasion and I cherish those moments when I can do that, and I have been able to do that more this year as a full-time CSU tech because my focus is not on photography but on the research work itself. Once I am done here in TRNP this June, I will put the photography hat back on and head west to begin capturing images for Stallions.
8. Are you a Nikon or Canon gal? Spill your secrets woman!
I’m a Nikon girl. After giving up my Pentax K1000, my very first camera back in 1999, I purchased a Nikon F5. When finally switching to digital in 2012 and to prevent investing in lenses I stayed with Nikon and purchased a used D3. My primary body now is a D5 and two back up D3’s along with my primary lens for wild horse photography a Nikon 80-400mm 5.6, my ultimate favorite lens a Nikon 70-200mm 2.8, and two other Nikon lenses a 24-70mm 2.8 and a 13-35mm lens that I finally fell in love with at a commercial shoot recently in the almond groves near Modesto, California. Of course I have filters for landscape photography, two tripods, and a monopod that is always on my 80-400 mm lens and other miscellaneous gear.
9. If you had the stage to talk wild horses to the American people -(who do not know anything about wild horses) what would you say to them? You only have 1 minute, so it has to be quick!
History. Where would America be without the horse? The horse was an integral partner in establishing America. The horse carried us into battle. The horse carried us to hunt for food. The horse plowed our fields. The horse carried our mail. The horse carried furs out of the western mountains. The horse pulled the buggies to town. The horse moved us across America, from east to west. We drive horsepower cars. The horse is the spirit of America, written into the fabric of this country not only by their contribution but by Congress back in 1971, when the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed.
Historical speaking, the 67,000 plus wild horses roaming free today and the 45,000 plus horses in off-range facilities are descendants of those very horses who made America and are a burden on us, the taxpayer. The largest portion of the BLM budget is used to maintain those 45,000 horses available for adoption.
It is our job to ensure that fragment of our American fabric is not swept away, the final thread unraveled so they will no longer be available for future generations to find their own spirit; their own connection to the past, one that built this country. It is our job—as horse advocate, city dweller, politician, rancher, taxpayer, to work together to fulfill the biggest gap in managing our future and past at the same time, the adoption gap!
Regardless if you think they are ‘junk’ because they do not have a five generation pedigree and you didn’t spend thousands of dollars on them, their story is bigger and wilder than anything you have ever experienced, and there is no denying what they did for this country, for you, of for one of your ancestors. We need to work together so that there is a lifetime waiting list for the next opportunity to own a piece of American history—a wild mustang! That is what horse and non-horse American’s are tasked to do. If each of us told the next person, who told the next person, who told the next person about how amazing these horses are how long would it take to have them all adopted?
A wild one need not be anything more than a pasture ornament or a wild one can become the greatest jumping horse of our time or a wild one can save a human soul. You decide.
10. Is there a funny story you can share about an encounter you have had with wild horses?
Picture yourself walking in the city, minding your own business and coming around a corner and bumping into someone and being startled, saying you’re sorry and then smiling about it later. Well retired band stallion, Singlefoot, and I had that brief encounter in 2016. Brief and powerful! He was on one side of a guard rail on the loop road and I was on the other and he popped up from below right next to me. I had no idea he was there and he had no idea I was there.
We were both startled, he slammed on his brakes and I jumped back and we both quickly went in opposite directions, Singlefoot to a place where his bubble was intact and I to where I wasn't invading his space, respectfully giving him his domain back.
As he glanced back over at me, with his piercing blue eye, I felt honored and privileged to have had that very, very brief electrical connection with the great patriarch of the wild ones of TRNP.He is magnificent and it was the first time I felt his keen sense of nobility and strength! I felt like he was saying, "Here I am, I have lived my life, I am proud, filled with the spirit of the wild, do not feel sorry for me, my life is as it should be.”
I want to personally thank Deb for humoring me by answering these questions! Now go check out her awesome art!