Photographer captures images of horses in their natural state

by Gary Walker

For Jennifer MaHarry, art truly does sometimes imitate life.

MaHarry, who owns an advertising and design firm that creates motion picture posters in Culver City, is exhibiting her latest collection of wildlife photographs at the G2 Gallery in Venice as part of the Nature L.A: Jennifer MaHarry exhibit, which opened on May 15.

G2’s mission is to showcase artists and organizations who have an interest in preserving or spotlighting conservation and the environment, which MaHarry says jibes with her artistic and vision as well as her environmental philosophy.

“It’s such a great gallery, and I support their mission about the environment,” said MaHarry.

Her first photography showing was at the Venice Art Walk, which she says gave her an indication of the quality of her work. “I think it was a good barometer to determine if there was any interest (in my photography),” she said.

MaHarry visited an Ojai horse sanctuary to photograph the animals, which will be part of the nature exhibit. “They were completely majestic and finely tuned to each other,” the photographer said.

She later traveled to Utah to shoot wild horses in the open plains, where she experienced how powerful they can be in their natural habitat. “It was both beautiful and terrifying,” MaHarry said.

After several hours of photographing them, a group of approximately 25 horses began charging her and at the last minute abruptly broke away when they were only a few feet from her.

MaHarry thinks the message was clear: it was time to go. “They could have trampled me,” she recalled. “They were threatening to stampede but I think there was a certain curiosity and respect that they have (for humans).”

Horses have long held a bond with humans and they are often depicted as noble creatures. In movies like “Flicka” and more recently “War Horse,” they are shown as intimate companions teens who are often depicted as loners or misunderstood by adults. They are also idolized in songs like “Wildfire” and portrayed on television as trusted companions in the 1960s television show “Mister Ed.”

G2 Gallery Marketing Director Gia LaRussa sees the emotional bond as well. “There is almost something mystical about horses in the wild, and I think Jennifer captures that beautifully,” she said.

MaHarry concurs that people often form attachments to domesticated horses, in some cases on a par with dogs and cats, due to their history with humans. “People have been asking horses to do quite a lot for them for centuries,” she noted. “And they’ve really given us their unconditional cooperation.”

Her time on the range was a stark contrast from city living and what the horse that she photograph experience.

“It is so quiet and peaceful,” she said. “It makes you realize how much noise pollution there is in Los Angeles.

“It was the most serene environment that I’ve been in my life.”

MaHarry had a showing before at G2 two years ago that featured horses on a sanctuary that have been rescued from possible slaughter.

“Her images always draw people into our stores,” said LaRussa. “She is one of our best- selling artists.

“We’re really excited to have Jennifer back again.”

The images in this year’s exhibit show horses as one would see them in nature: a mare with a new born colt; a team of horses galloping along the plains; two stallions battling against a scenic backdrop.

“You get to see the horses in their family units,” LaRussa said. “It really seems like a study in nature.”

MaHarry’s passion for capturing images of wild horses with her camera has led her to encounter a ritual that she and others find disturbing but some view as a normal way of life on the prairie: horse roundups.

The roundups have become a battleground between conservationists who want the horses to remain on the land where many generations have been sired and the property interests of miners and ranchers.

MaHarry has witnessed a few of these events, which are not typically open to the public. “They are absolutely heart wrenching,” she said. “There are many people and organizations that believe that they should be allowed to roam freely.”

Organizations like the Humane Society are involved in monitoring these roundups to make certain that as few horses as possible are injured.

The organization is calling for a moratorium on the roundups following a report this year released by the federal Bureau of Land Management. An internal review found that many mustangs in Nevada during a gathering of horses were whipped in the face, kicked in the head, dragged by a rope around the neck, and repeatedly shocked with electrical prods.

The federal agency concluded that none of this could be characterized as inhumane.

“Aggressive and rough handling of wild horses is not acceptable, and we are actively taking steps to ensure that such behavior is not repeated,” Bureau of Land Management Director Robert Abby said Abbey said in a statement announcing that the bureau will improve its procedures for roundups.

Ranchers and miners are expanding their interests onto public lands and grazing and cattle associations have filed lawsuits to continue mustang roundups in Wyoming and Nevada.

Horses that have been rescued, the subject of MaHarry’s 2010 showing at G2, are moved to sanctuaries and others are taken to holding pens and her Nature L.A. exhibit is designed to draw attention to the uneasy balancing act between the livestock and mining industries and the horses right to roam free.

There will be an artist’s reception for MaHarry on Saturday, May 19 at the gallery.

Balancing two careers does not allow Maharry to focus exclusively one of them. “(My primary focus) shifts from day to day, depending on what’s in front of me,” she said. “Everyday is different.”

MaHarry’s exhibit will run until June 24.