January 13 – February 28, 2010
A reception with the artist at the Stoneham Gallery is Thursday, January 14, 6-7:30 PM, It is open to all.
Around 40 years ago, when horseracing was the most popular sport in America, Ellen Rennard had the opportunity to ride a horse on the exercise track at Arlington Park in Illinois. That glimpse into the racing world left a lasting impression.
Decades later, in 2003, when she was teaching school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she began photographing The Downs at Albuquerque, a thoroughbred and quarter horse racetrack at the state fairgrounds.
A series of her photographs focusing on the people, horses, and trappings of ordinary life at the track, The Downs at Albuquerque, is featured in The Atelier Gallery at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, MA, January 13 through February 28. The exhibit runs parallel to the theater’s production of Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad.
Rennard says of The Downs, “Even though horses are cooled on mechanical hot walkers instead of being led by grooms, and the crowds have thinned, I found much that appeared unchanged.”
“Many of the older grooms, trainers, valets, jockeys and others who work at The Downs still remember those earlier days of racing and their perspectives have helped inform my sense of the present,” she adds.
She says she chose to use black-and-white film and silver gelatin prints “to suggest the look of photographs from the heyday of racing, which even now hang on the walls of The Jockey Club at The Downs.”
While many small and mid-level tracks have closed in recent years and the future of The Downs is uncertain, Rennard says, “For now, vestiges of the past exist in the shadows of the grandstand that overlooks the finish line and, in spite of the odds, true horseman and woman endure. For them, the horse still matters. They are the ones who said to me, ´We need you to tell our side of the story.´ And, that is what I aim to do.”
“Ellen Rennard has a real talent for depicting the lifeblood, energy and spirit of the people and horses of Albuquerque Downs,” says Paula Tognarelli executive director of the Griffin Museum of Photography.
Rennard majored in independent studies at Princeton University and a master’s degree in English from Middlebury College. She later turned to photography, studying with Eugene Richards, Joyce Tenneson, Shelby Lee Adams, and others.
In 2009, the unpublished book, The Downs at Albuquerque, was nominated for a New York Photo book award. Photos and an article about the series will appear in the February 2010 edition of Black and White Magazine.
Rennard teaches at the Groton School, in Groton, MA.