DEB LEE CARSON
In the mid 1990’s I was working on a beef ranch in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where I lived in a primitive (emphasis on primitive) cabin in a ‘holler’ surrounded on one side by the Jefferson National Forest and the ranch on the other!
Spring arrived and along with it tiny, pink flowers called Spring Beauties carpeting the forest floor and their casual, exquisite beauty compelled me to borrow my boss’s old Pentax K1000, a small, manual film camera. Seeking to capture the flora of that Appalachia region, along with the mountain people who still lived as they did in the 30’s and the passion for photography had begun.
Behind the camera I stumbled on an outlet for creative expression, providing the ability to share a perspective of how the world looks through my view-finder, no words; the only language needed, the viewers open heart and their own life experience. The lens has become a respite from the pressures of daily life—while capturing beauty in the seldom witnessed events which have become my subject of study.
A story often shared by my mother, is she rode horse while pregnant with me and I assume that is where the deep bond with a horse began, but that’s the silly romantic in me. There is no denying they have been solace during troubled times and a lasting souvenir of the exquisite scenes life offers and I try to capture that in my images. Growing up on that dairy farm in southeastern Minnesota, surrounded by the horses my mother rode, and the cattle we had to milk, instilled an unwavering respect for the land, a tough work ethic, a fierce independence, a love of the wildness, and an undying attachment to those four legged creatures with flowing manes, flaring nostrils, and large, undeniable eyes.
My subject matter, the wild ones (horses) are wrapped in the silence of the vast, desert range, their freedom bound only to the next sip of water, the next nibble of forage, unfettered only by the relentless watch for rogue stallions, or where to lie down to give birth to new life. The silence of the wilds, it is hard to find in the cacophony of civilization.
My work has become about exploring the vastness of the natural landscape, capturing the poetic, raw intensity the horse offers and investigating their elements of beauty, strength and social structure. On a formal level these images are about light, space, form, movement and scale. On an informal level my work is about seeing the everyday beauty in their natural surroundings, about exploring time, place, memory and change.
The story behind the image and the final piece of art are a medium and tool to give back to that romantic subject matter, to raise awareness for all horses, but specifically for America’s living heritage—the wild horses whose ancestors carried American’s from sea to sea.
Beginning the week between Christmas and New Year’s in 2014, and resuming from March 19th through June 26th of 2015, I lived and breathed the lives of the wild horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, ND.
I spent three months tracking the wild ones over 46,000 acres, capturing their compelling stories in all types of challenging weather, over rugged badlands terrain from sunup to sundown. I witnessed stallions battling over mares, mares gathering around a newborn foal to protect her from a rogue bachelor stallion, to the tender love between a stallion and his lead mare. Birth and death in the wild are simultaneous, at times, and being a part of the wild ones daily encounters and struggles was a life changing experience.
The greatest discovery of this journey was the number of people who are moved by the spirit of these amazing wild animals. There is something that connects people to what WAS in the hope that it will always remain wild and free. The wild ones serve as the last thread tying us to a time in our history that was filled with guts, glory, hard work, sweat, danger, and the ability to rely on ourselves in an equal partnership with the prairie and forest as well as the hard work of domestic beasts. The wild ones live their lives unencumbered by the rules and restrictions their domestic brethren must endure, living only by the expectations of the herd, the changing seasons, and the rugged and carved Badlands.
Finally, the silence—the indelible silence of the wide open spaces, the silence of the natural realm, the loud and noisy silence of the wild ones, the order of life in the wild, the freedom of being unfettered except where to find the next drink of water or watching for a rogue stallion to steal a mare, or where to lie down to give birth to new life. The silence, it is hard to find in the cacophony of civilization.
This resulting body of work is titled Fly Without Wings and it is a tribute to the spirit of America, whose history was built on the back of horse, featuring the wild horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This body of work is also an instrument to raise awareness for the wild horses in America. We are donating 10% of sales to the North Dakota Badlands Horse group, a non-profit group that promotes, advocates and registers the wild horses of TRNP and who recently signed into a partnership agreement with Theodore Roosevelt National Park to safeguard that the wild horses of TRNP are never faced with the fate of the kill buyer again.