Behind the Lens – Victoria Aguirre

In the spotlight

Meet Victoria Aguirre, an Argentinean married to an Australian, who has found a way to live harmoniously in both countries by photographing the animals of her childhood – horses.

What is your earliest {childhood} memory of horses?

Looking at photos always brings back so many memories, but the first memory that comes to my mind is when I was a baby I was so close to a horse that I could smell that particular smell that I fell in love with and still love up until now.

The second memory that comes to my mind is being 6 or 7 years old and waking up in my family’s farm in La Pampa, (Argentina) at 5:30 am in the middle of winter. I would run to one of the Gauchos house’s to have some mates (Argentinean tea) with him and then go to the stables and start getting the horses ready for the usual work at the farm.

I would help him all morning until lunchtime; we would then have siesta, and then back to work again in the afternoon. I would do this all through my winter, summer and Easter holidays.

The third memory from when I was very young and small, if I woke up late and the gauchos were not there to help me put the reins on my horse, (Chancleta was her name), I couldn’t do it by myself. So I use to spend hours in the corral with her, singing and asking her to put her head down so I can put on the reins. In the end she always did, as I couldn’t put the saddle by myself either, I use to just put her near a fence and jump onto her and gallop into the fields to find the gauchos working with the cattle.

I always hated waking up late, that feeling of being desperate to be on my horse and go to work with the others. I still can’t forget.… so many memories! My only scar in my whole body is from my horse. She bit me when I was really young, while trying to feed her with corn; she almost ate my finger off… memories.. I can’t stop now.

Galloping with all my cousins and brothers barefoot and with no saddle pretending we were Indians from the Pampa’s, we used to paint our horses with mud and do all types of drawings on them, just like the indigenous peoples of the area once did…. Galloping with electric storms or into the sunset… all memories that I will treasure forever.

How would you describe or explain the horse culture in Argentina?

Well I guess it depends where you are in Argentina. Some areas don’t have much of a horse culture, but the ones that do, live and breathe horses! It’s part of everyday life, and it’s a way of living and a lifestyle for sure. It doesn’t matter if it rains or if it’s extremely hot, you still go out, still do the same thing, because you didn’t know what to do without them. I grew up in a family where horses are like our treasures.

Since I was a little kid I remember going to see the new born foals and my uncle and aunt used to tell us all about it’s mother, father, grandparents and great grandparents and how its personality will be due to the bloodline and genes. Naming our horses was a very exciting moment for us kids…

What does riding or being with horses mean to you?

It means home, it means love, it means family, it means heritage, it means my biggest connection to nature. I feel I connect and experience Mother Nature in a very special way when I am with horses.

What have horses taught you the most?

To be patient. Horses have their individual processes for maturing. Some days they don’t feel like having you on their back, some days they’re grumpy and other days they’re happy. One thing I admire the most is how they read you just from the way you approach them, jump on them and ride them, they just know. They know it all and that still makes me think how magical they are, how noble.

Can you remember the first photo you took and if so please share this moment/experience with our globetrotters.

I can’t remember the first photo I took, but I can remember the one that made me smile and feel, Ok this is great, now I can explore this more. This was a photo I took at sunset, of the legs of a horse. I saw something magical; it was the light and the frame, the light going through the hairs of its tail and the stillness of its legs at the same time. I started looking at my horses in a different way from this moment.

How did the ‘Pampa Horses’ project come about?

Well…I grew up between Buenos Aires, and La Pampa, where my family has a big farm. Amongst other things, they bred polo horses, many of my family members play polo. Though I admire the sport, due to the connection that the rider generates with the horse to play, I prefer just riding myself.

I got my first film camera when I really young and I always use to write, read, draw, paint and do all kinds of creative stuff. When I finished school I started a degree in advertising, but still I needed to study something more creative. That’s how I started studying photography with a great photographer that taught me that the best photo of your life could be in your backyard.

So, I started taking photos of horses more and more, and at some point it became an obsession. I only ever took photos of my families horses. I feel I went through a long creative process to develop the series. It’s been 10 years already of working side by side with them, finding my frame, my best light, etc.

It’s a beautiful artistic process where I get to experience a lot of silence, that natural silence that penetrates my blood, keeps me focused but at the same time flowing amongst them. I sometimes just lay down on the ground and all the little ones come and play with me. Sometimes I see things through my lens that surprises me, teaches me and makes me cry.

So to sum it up, when I met Carl almost 5 years ago I made the move to Australia. It would have been very difficult for him to get a well paid job in Argentina. I got very home sick that first year in Australia. The ocean made me cry many times, I missed the dirt, the sunset amongst horses, the rides, the amazing smell of a sweaty horses, my family, my culture… so we decided that we needed to start something that connected that with Australia and Pampa was started.

The photo series go the name, Pampa Horses, and the whole brand came together under this amazing name, which means flat lowlands of fertile earth. Now I get to go home two to three times a year and it’s like a medicine of love being with my camera amongst these beautiful creatures.

What was the most challenging part of this project?

The challenge would be the artistic, creative side of it. As an artist you go through stages and face times that you feel a huge connection to your work, but other times it just isn’t there and you can’t force it. It can be hard to focus and find that frame, that light, that perfect photo.

What was the most rewarding part of this project?

Seeing my Pampa horses in peoples home’s, even people that don’t like horses as such, but they see something else in my photos.

What photograph in your Pampa Horses collection are you most proud of? I would love to hear the story behind this image and why you love it so much.

Mmmm, I’m not too sure, there is one image in particular that makes me very proud, but all have something very special for me. They represent a moment in my life, at home doing what I love the most, taking photos and being surrounded by horses. I think the whole series shows different moments of this experience and I get a lot of emails from clients saying it’s really hard for them to choose one.

I guess because they all came together from that specific place and that special group of horses they all transmit a similar energy. But that one image I am most proud of is Horse #1 and it’s actually is the most popular horse, the one we sell the most. When I took the photos he wasn’t broken in yet and he was being very curious with me that day. It was a windy afternoon and horses usually get restless with wind, so he was moving from one place to another, not staying still.

But he just looked at me and stayed for a while, looking deeply into my eyes, like saying, yes I know I’m beautiful! And I took that photo and that for me says a lot about the personality of that horse, strong, but playful, with a lot of self-esteem.

What is it about equines that you love capturing?

As I mentioned earlier, they represent my home, my family and my roots, and this I’m very proud of.

What are your ideal photographic conditions?

Sunsets with beautiful golden light or cloudy days for my over exposed backgrounds and creating moody images.

How would you describe your photography style. Do you like to shoot ‘off-the-hip’ or do you prefer to plan?

I don’t plan, not at all! I just spend a lot of time around them, observing their relationships and reactions and photos just come along naturally, well most of the time anyway. Working with animals, you can’t plan? That would be hard. I just trust that every time I’m around them I see something that I feel I need to capture. I think my style would be genuine, very real, simple, modern but nostalgic and playful.

What camera and lenses do you use?

I use a film Minolta xg9 with fuji film, but mostly shoot with my Canon 5D, Mark 2. My lens I shoot with mostly is a Canon 24-105mm L series, but I also have a 50mm and 35mm.

For our globetrotters – do you have any trade tips in capturing equines in their best possible light?

Just play with your camera and you’ll be surprised of the photos you capture. Don’t be afraid of getting dirty on the ground and sometimes even kicked, stepped on or even bitten, but that’s all part of it. Let them kiss your lens or pull your hair…the more they feel you are part of them, the better photos you will get. But first always observe from a distance. Stand up and see the mood of matriarch and start with her, ask her for permission and then step in.

To see more of Victoria’s work visit : www.victoriaaguirre.com or  www.pampa.com.au

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