A German woman with experience spanning 40 years in equine photography has photographed about 300 horse breeds; depicting their natural beauty and power in far-flung spots such as Bavaria, Iceland, and India, among numerous others.
"Horses are nothing short of the most amazing creatures I know. I enjoy these animals in all their facets," Christiane Slawik, 58, told The Epoch Times. "What moves me is curiosity, a little talent, a good portion of zest for action, a lot of wanderlust and, of course, above all, my inexhaustible love of horses."
A former TV journalist, Slawik has always been in search of stories and now she enjoys photographing horses in special places where they've hardly been seen or photographed before.
Her love for horses began as early as when she was a child. Slawik said that her mom always told her that she was "a horse galloping through life" before she could even stand on her own feet.
She spent her holidays at Pony Stables, followed by memberships in riding clubs including small tournaments. Slawik later learned to ride and train various horse breeds in the United States after she graduated. She then went on to become a TV journalist, straying far from her first love, until one day she was reminded of what she was missing.
“Work crowded out all four-legged friends until I happened to end up in a stable for a TV report," Slawik said. "The quiet chewing and gentle snorting reached my ears, the hay smelled. I threw all career options overboard and reorganized my life around horses again.”
The gamble paid off. Today, Slawik works with about 40 international publishing houses, and her coffee-table books have been published in four languages. Additionally, the award-winning Würzburg native has also received glorifying reviews from critics for her work and is one of the most sought-after horse photographers. Her amazing pictures also feature in 100 covers and 20 solo calendars every year.
However, Slawik's success didn't come without hard work and risk.
She explained that, despite the domestication, the horse has always remained a wild animal inside, and anyone who happens to deal with these species on a regular basis will know how their "unpredictable escape behavior" can erupt.
"This risk must always be kept in mind when handling and photographing," Slawik said. "This is often completely underestimated. A horse can rip a 10 gauge plug out of a wall with a bang from its head, and no one can hold a Shetland pony when it's trying to get away."
She also explained that, since she is most of the time lying on the ground for work, collateral damage often occurs from time to time. However, she adds that this is a professional risk that she has undertaken to capture some special perspectives. Due to her careful approach, Slawik has made sure that, over the years, nothing has happen to the horse or the rider.
Turning a hobby into a job definitely comes with its own challenges, such as there are some appointments where she isn't allowed to be so creative, and additionally, the working hours are sometimes enormous.
However, "sitting somewhere in a paddock again, surrounded by curious horses that carefully touch me with their soft noses and blow warm air in my face; of course, that makes up for everything," she said.
For Slawik, it doesn't matter what the breed, color, or size of the horse is or whether it's a high-priced eventer or a rescued slaughter horse.
“Horses are nothing short of the most amazing creatures I know," she said. “Even if we don't speak any common language: passion and love for these animals ensures that we understand each other perfectly on another level.”
For Slawik, this passion for discovering unknown breeds in their native environments has not only resulted in some of the most jaw-dropping equine photography in the world, but deep connections with people from different cultures and traditions.
“There are still many countries where horses belong to daily life, irreplaceable for transport, work, or religious reasons," Slawik said. "My interest in them leads to the roots of those cultures, opens the hearts of their owners, and provides insights that remain denied to most tourists."
Although they don't speak a common language, the love for these animals, Slawik says, transcends all communication barriers. Everywhere she goes, Slawik makes sure she rides all the breeds herself and questions country-specific equipment.
"For example, the head of a Bedouin family in the Sahara notices that I can handle his stallion just as well as he does, then he also allows me to create unusual motifs," she said. "This is what happened in Tunisia, among other places. Many years later, I received a very moving phone call. They wanted to tell me: the old man was dead, but my pictures would keep his spirit in the tents."
This is how she creates some really personal ties in all countries.
Slawik said she learned photography during analog times and did not rely on photoshop but just her photography skills. Thus she has a lot of knowledge in this field.
Currently, she shoots with various bodies from the Canon EOS 1 DX series and shares that lenses are really important for her genre. You also won't find Slawik with a tripod, as she reasons that they're “far too slow and inflexible for a free-roaming horse."
She mostly provides her subjects with a large area where they can move freely and withdraw from any pressure whenever they feel like it.
“But they don't want that at all!” Slawik exclaimed. “Horses sense that I have a plan. Sometimes I have the feeling that I can transfer my ideas to the animals and infect them with my enthusiasm.”
In return, Slawik said, the horse’s curiosity and joy of presenting itself as healthy and powerful, prevails.
“These special, playful moments, in which a horse also says to me in its own language, ‘I am the greatest and invincible,’ inspire me most as a photographer,” she shared.
Photographing a horse, Slawik also gains unrivaled insight into his character.
“I look into their face and know immediately how they are feeling," she said. "You can study them like a book by their expressions and body language. At the same time, the animal senses my interest and excitement.”
Slawik enjoys every facet of the animals. “Their wild yet gentle spirit, innocence and curiosity, and the amazing will to please people. Attractiveness and charisma, energy and elegance," she explained. "Horses are infinitely patient, attentive, and always willing to give their all.”
Over the years, Slawik has created some unforgettable moments. One that stands out is that of photographing Lusitano Xeique in Portugal. Sharing more details of the shoot, she said that it had rained for two days; she visited a stable in the afternoon as per her plan, and the Lusitanos were waiting, freshly washed and styled. However, the bullring, which was their shooting location, was completely underwater and even looked like a mud pit.
There was 30 centimeters of puddle-free space directly at the edge, where the horses could move around freely.
"Neat as a pin, the gray stallion floats in, checks the situation, and falls over on the spot on purpose," she said. "I also throw myself into the mud to be able to take pictures at the same level. I can only get a bit of clean fur and a mischievous look."
In the resulting image, there is no gray horse to be seen, but under the layer of mud "sounds a pleasurable grunt."
Apart from shooting some amazing pictures, Slawik has also been able to trigger a horse photography boom with her publications of exotic Marwari horses in India.
“There are now several providers of riding safaris with photo opportunities, and Indian photography colleagues have also finally started to photograph their indigenous horses," she said. "Isn’t that great!”