Mary Aiu is an award-winning fine art photographer who spends her time pursuing beautiful horses around the world. Her work is noted for its ethereal feel, blending photographic components that often result in a painterly quality of the horse in motion. Her series Unbridled: The Horse at Liberty serves to capture the captivating, dancer-like movements of the horse. Her work is to showcase equine splendor, and the free spirit of the horse on the run. We asked Mary some questions about her inspirations and her artistic process, and here is what she had to say.
Tell us how you first connected to the Griffin Museum.
Being from California, I’m not able to visit the museum exhibits, but I follow them online and I am also a member. However, a big connection came in 2019 when I read about a workshop in Maine to be led by Paula Tognarelli. I knew she was the executive director at the Griffin, and would have much to share, so I enrolled. It was well worth every penny for me to travel from California to participate, as it was an astonishing workshop, and I learned so much. She also reviewed my portfolio, and told me to keep in touch, as she would like to show my work in the future.
How do you involve photography in your everyday life?
I have a 28-year-old Arabian mare I adore, who lives on our property. I spend time with her daily and I know the time will come sooner than I would like that she will cross over. I have recently been taking daily images that I call “365 days with Ruby,” just to document moments of our life together.
I also spend a great deal of time on the computer working on my composite imagery. When things aren’t working out, or I need a break, I head out alone with my camera with no preconceived ideas: just me, the place, and the moment. I find great joy in how the camera connects me to my environment in an intimate way, and a day spent in nature photographing is a good respite.
Can you tell us about any images or artists that have caught your attention recently?
The horse paintings of Mark English, as I love his use of movement, pattern and color. Also, one of my all-time favorite images is, Wynn Bullock’s “Child on Forest Road.” I have an affinity for trees, and I can envision myself as that child walking alone among those trees. I had a similar experience on the back of a horse as a child, and it inspired my collection “On the Edge of Enchantment.”
Please tell us a little about your series, Unbridled: The Horse at Liberty, and how it was conceived.
This curated exhibit includes selected images from three bodies of my equine work. There have been several turning points that have led me to where I am today with my work that is in the show. The first of these was years ago when I discovered the digital tools available to the photographer. I was intrigued with Photoshop, as it allowed me the ability to work beyond the camera capture to add a layer of my own voice to my imagery. I spent years working with Photoshop refining my craft. Another turning point came in 2012 when I decided to choose a subject matter for my work that I was passionate about, which would be the horse. Growing up in a cattle ranching family, and having horses of my own most of my life, it was no surprise that this was the subject I wanted to incorporate into my digital work for long-term projects. Traveling extensively over these years to photograph various breeds I have learned so much more about horses, and continue to be amazed by them.
My favorite way of photographing horses is to allow them to move about freely in an arena or small field. If it is a stallion that has
been released from his stall, I am sure to witness quite a performance with bursts of athletic and graceful movements, as he dances about showing off the beautiful horse that he knows himself to be. Then the work begins, when I start blending various images together and a new creation begins to develop. This may take days to get close to something I feel is worth finishing, but I enjoy seeing it come together.
My artist intent is to hopefully connect with the viewer in a magical sort of way, to showcase what I consider to be equine splendor.
Has there been a Griffin Museum exhibition that has particularly engaged or moved you?
In October of last year, I visited the Griffin for the first time and fell in love with the Rhonda Lashley Lopez exhibit, “Life Narrated by Nature.” My response to her gilded images made me feel like I was looking at individual ethereal treasures, which to me, were very poetic. I had many favorites, but a stand out one would be “Looking Back.”
What is your favorite place to escape to?
I would have to say that would be England. I have family there, and we usually spend a week traveling around together when I visit. I love spending time in the lush green countryside, and looking at the hedgerow pastures dotted with livestock. Exploring the small quaint villages is one of our favorite activities, and the day usually ends in a charming tea shop for a creamed tea and good conversation. Several times we have stayed in a thatched cottage, which was so fun.
What is a book, song or visual obsession you have at the moment?
Currently, it’s a book that a friend of mine gave me, “Ezekiel’s Horse” by Keith Carter. A hauntingly beautiful collection of horse images using his soft focus approach.
If you could be in a room with anyone to have a conversation, who would it be and what would you talk about?
I went on an African safari in 2018 and it was the most amazing, and sometimes intense adventure of my life. I have always resonated with Nick Brandt’s images of Africa, and I would enjoy having a discussion with him about the work he created there.