Equestrian Potraiture In Early Photography Essay

1207 words - 5 pages

Booker T. Washington on Horseback taken by the American photographer Arthur P.Bedou in 1915 follows the canons of formal and equestrian portraiture. Equestrian imagery has been seen in art throughout history in a myriad of different mediums. Examples can be seen in 10th century West African bronze sculptures all the way to 17th century Baroque European canvases. When we, the viewers see a figure mounted on a horse we can’t help but think of war or power, as we should in most cases. Roland Barthes wrote, “What founds the nature of Photography is the pose.” so when Arthur Bedou took the photograph of Booker T. Washington on a horse in 1915 it’s difficult to think that he didn’t carefully pose Washington in order to convey a specific message. Arthur Bedou was a French Creole known for his unique developing techniques, portraits, and landscapes. Booker T. Washington hired him to be his traveling photographer during his last speaking engagements in the South.
In order to fully understand the correlation between the pose and the model we must discuss the Booker T. Washington’s importance in American politics. Washington was not only Tuskegee Institute’s president but also a political leader who campaigned for blacks to achieve economic equality with whites. He believed that if African- Americans went to vocational schools to learn industrial and farming skills they could start working for themselves and maybe then they would win over the white community’s respect. Reflecting on his beliefs one can argue that he wasn’t a radical, he accepted that segregation and discrimination was a way of life in the nation however if African-American continued to be the driving force behind hard labor they would soon earn equal rights. Booker T. Washington was a different kind of reformer, his methods were practical, he wasn’t feared however he was strong and adamantly pursued his beliefs. This photograph perfectly embodies Washington’s attributes. In this photograph there isn’t much going on, you see a well-dressed Washington mounted on a horse in the foreground. In the background you see what’s probably the stable or farmhouse’s entrance behind him. The horse is calm and Booker seems to be in control of the animal. There’s a connected feeling between the Washington and the horse but also with us the viewers. Booker’s gaze isn’t fixed on anything in particular however he does seem pensive. Another interesting characteristic of this photograph is that the horse isn’t struggling against the rider.
The photographer Arthur Bedou must have known the impact of the iconic equestrian portrait. The way a viewing audience is affected a figure on horseback, and how over time it became an emblem of power in politics as well as war. Equestrian portraits however have a long history of showing an untamed or spirited horse and a very confident rider, to further highlight the leader’s abilities. For example the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome is both aesthetically...

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