Barry Hart: Man of the West

Barry Hart: Man of the West

Barry Hart’s classic photographs capture the mood and iconography of the west with images of horses, cowboys, rodeos, saddles, and boots. Since signing Barry 5 years ago, we’ve added over 300 of his stunning photographs to our collection. His passion for equine photography is unsurpassed and his story is a classic American tale of hard work and determination to follow his dream.

Born in Brooklyn, New York to a family of musicians, Barry began his life in a place he knew he didn’t belong, with a yearning for something he couldn’t quite identify. He knew there was something for him beyond the close and crowded streets of the city. He just wasn’t sure what that ‘something’ might be.

Meanwhile, he sang with his family of   musicians, a family bursting with pride for this child with the voice of perfect pitch and remarkable timbre. And so, by the age of 10, Barry was singing professionally, living his family’s dream, if not his own.  As it happened, the career that was chosen for this wunderkind wasn’t all that bad. The unconventional entertainer’s life provided a unique freedom, a foundational independence that nourished the handsome young star’s wanderlust.  Eternally engaged in his quest for something and somewhere to love, Barry was destined to discover the horses. At what he thought was a long time coming, Providence stepped in and his own, previously nameless dreams began to take shape. On his daily walk toward school, he passed a newsstand where colorful magazines of every kind were displayed in a tapestry of topic and design. It was a wondrous spectacle where other people’s hopes and ideas competed for dominance in the mind of the artistic teenager–until the competition came to a dazzling end.  As he passed by the newsstand, he always smiled toward the proprietor, a more typical, less genial New Yorker than was the unselfconscious Barry. One day, in the course his usual one way greeting, Barry’s eye was met by the gaze of a creature of such power and beauty that it stopped him in his tracks. He knew the positions of the popular magazines, each of which had its own place in the pecking order of marketing. But today was different. Today, a magnificent horse looked straight at him, grabbed his heart, and changed his life forever. Never before had he seen an eye so large and clear and deep. Never had he felt the look of another creature delving into his own soul, speaking to him in such spendid silence. Never before had he been so enchanted, so mysteriously brought to the brink of tears. The word TURF, in big letters at the top of the page, was tucked behind the horse’s ears and something else was written in the sky above his neck. But the words didn’t matter, only the grand and glorious horse.

“Get along with you, boy,” the newsman scolded, sounding only half angry. There’s paying customers needin’ to see what I’m sellin’.”

“I’ll buy it!” the boy said, digging in his pocket as he spoke.

 “You don’t got the money,” the man barked, shooing the boy away with the newspaper in his hand.

 “I do. I got it. I’ll buy it.” The boy with the voice did buy that magazine, using the lunch money he’d earned but hadn’t spent. And that was the beginning. Nothing in his life would ever be the same.

From then on, TURF Magazine held its place on the top shelf of the newsstand. With the photo of a beautiful horse on the cover of every issue, it became sustenance for Barry’s newfound passion. Here at last he found something to love and, the seedlings of more than one purpose. He managed to buy every new issue, and after several months of this, the newsman who once tried to chase him away actually looked his way with a sort of smile every now and then.

He treasured every copy, pouring over the photographs and wondering how he would ever get to a place where he could touch the horses, smell them, feel their hearts beating with his. For what seemed to him a very long time, he lived through the photographs of the great horses that graced the pages of these magazines that increased in number to fill every shelf and most of the floor space in his bedroom.

Not far from Barry’s home, there was a riding academy that rented out horses for other dreamers to go for a ride on the beach, to leave the mundane behind in favor of grand adventure, to tilt at windmills and pretend to be more than they thought they were. This was just the stage upon which the youthful entertainer could act out his own imaginings.

When Barry discovered this captivating opportunity, he was receiving an allowance of 50 cents a day, a fortune that was meant to be used for school lunches. Since he didn’t care much for school, he tended to walk toward it, but not to it So it was easy for him to save his lunch money and use it to go for a horseback ride once a week. Armed with the entertainer’s independence learned early on, he’d developed a schedule and an agenda all his own.

After a while, by the grace and goodness of God, his determination earned him a job as a trail guide at the riding academy, making it possible for him to be horseback much more than just an hour or so a week. The stable owner told Barry that all he had to do was to bring the riders home alive and relatively unscathed. If he accomplished this, his salary would afford him a couple of hours more to ride by himself, on the horses of his choice. There could have been no greater reward.

The job description that included bringing the riders back alive wasn’t just a flippant comment. And what Barry learned about horses from the origin of this requirement became the first lesson in what would become for him a lifetime of infinite fascination with equine behavior.

The rent horses of New York City lived in what Barry didn’t know at the time were truly deplorable conditions. When they weren’t being ridden, they stood in slots just wide and long enough that they could walk forward to get in, and back up to get out. Between their incarceration and their job carrying riders up and down the beach, they had about a mile to walk on the tarmac through the winding residential streets of Brooklyn by the bay.

When they reached the end of the tarmac and stepped onto the soft ground, one after the other, like a line of dominoes, these horses on leave from their forced captivity fell to the ground with sweet abandon, for a good roll and a scratch of itchy backs. No amount of shrieking from the terrified riders could stop the domino effect of need and reward that is among the unalterable habits of the herd animal.

Created by God to live freely, to find food and water and other comforts on their own, horses have no malice and don’t set out to damage the humans who ride and work around them. But the average person isn’t aware of this, a fact that added drama to their imagined heroics for the riders.

With this persistent game afoot, only Barry’s fearless good humor made it possible for him to keep running from rider to rider, pulling them out of the way of their happy horses; then helping them back into their saddles when the time was right to resume the adventure of a gallop along the shore. And it was an adventure, in all its human clumsiness and its equine elegance it was a thing of beauty and a joy to remember.

At the advanced age of 17, the lad who sang for his supper in the family music business was beginning to be discouraged that he hadn’t yet become a rock star. But he kept at it, because it was what he knew how to do, and because he never gave up hope that his career as an entertainer would one day lead him to a better life with the horses. And, it did! As is often the case with true believers and those who don’t give up, hopes held in the heart have a way of coming to fruition.

When Barry was in his early twenties, a friend with whom he’d been singing for years inherited a music business in Arizona. When he heard the news, Barry saw visions of horses dancing in his head, and when his friend invited him to go along on this expedition to an unfamiliar land, the singer, the dreamer headed west without a backward glance; and except for occasional visits, Barry never went home again.

In Arizona, he kept doing what he knew how to do. But when anyone asked why he was there even though he clearly had the talent to make a better living in the big city, he would say simply, “I came to be with the horses.” In Scottsdale, where he spent most of his time, he could see the horses in the pastures, he could stop and reach through the fences to touch them, he could watch people ride, and dream the great dreams of being a cowboy, dreams that would never die.

And, just as Barry had hoped, his music WAS the catalyst that enabled him to begin a new life with the horses. He sang at the wedding of a horse trainer, the youngest son in the most prominent international Arabian horse breeding family of that time. Shortly after that musical gig, the ever-resolute Barry made a visit to the family ranch in search of the groom, asked for a job, and got it.

“Do you know anything about horses?” the trainer asked. “Not really,” Barry answered, “just that I love them.”

Never underestimate the powers of love and sincere resolve.

Thus began a new chapter in the life of the entertainer who would go back now and then to ply the trade into which he was born. The voice would not be silenced. The gift was too great to go unshared. In God’s mysterious plan, this talent would support Barry’s passion for horses. And along the winding road, he would marry a beautiful little blonde horsewoman who would work beside him in the business of training and competing professionally, presenting and riding the Arabian horses that they could enjoy, thanks to ‘the voice’.

From the first time he threw a leg over a horse near the beach in New York City to this day, Barry has spent as much of his time as possible becoming familiar with every nuance of the horses that will always hold a large part of his heart. Half a lifetime away, even though he’s not riding so much these days, he’s still touching the great, warm bodies of the horses he loves, still breathing the air they breathe, still feeling their hearts beating with his, still learning their stories.

OKAY, but wait, isn’t this story about a profoundly gifted photographer? Well yes; but for the singer and horseman, the creative endeavor of photography came later, after the escapades of his youth. He can still sing, but that was never his passion. He can still ride, just not as fast or as far as could before, because his knees have betrayed this man of the west.

Hence, another slight course alteration. And how, you might ask, does one go from being a horse trainer to a photographer? Providence. While he was riding by day and singing by night, Barry became friends with some of the finest equine photographers of the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. The horseman in charge of handling the animals while the photographers plied their trade and made their magic, Barry did two of the things he has always done best, he observed and he tucked away in his mind for future reference all that he was seeing.

Remember that earlier comment about the seedlings of more than one purpose that took root in Barry’s mind through his youthful fascination with TURF Magazine? First, on the pages of that periodical, he fell deeply, madly, passionately in love with the horse. Second, he was captivated therein by the art of photography, particularly as it related to the horse.

When his knees began to go bad, the dauntless cowboy picked up his wife’s camera and started teaching himself the art and the science of photography. He watched and asked questions of photographers he admired; tested the techniques used by others, made adjustments, and began to develop his own methods. He began to observe the horses from a new perspective, for a slightly different reason; and he practiced, practiced, practiced.

As voracious in his study of photography as he once was in his study of horsemanship, Barry spends nearly as many hours reading about photographic technique and the tools of the trade as he does honing his skills in this highly disciplined art. And then, as if intense study and application aren’t enough, he devotes countless hours to developing his images into the very best possible depiction of his subjects before sending them to print. In what might be referred to as excessive to a fault, Barry literally gives weeks to looking at, and becoming acquainted with, each of his photos before relinquishing them to his publisher.

Barry’s process is organic, and yet intentional. When an idea comes to mind, he thinks about it, makes a plan, studies light and calculates focus from varied angles, at different times of day. In this way, he often finds a shot that is only available for 10 seconds on a given day, and only when the weather is right.

When he chooses the subject dearest to his heart, the horse, he spends days getting to know a single animal. He watches the way the horse moves, how it interacts with its humans, or with other horses. One of the equine behaviors he finds most fascinating is how the herd animal behaves when it is with its herd mates, or away from them. Every part of Barry’s love for his subject, along with his tireless observations, breathe life into his portraits of the creatures with which he most passionately connects.

When the hearts of horse and artist beat together, the dance of light comes into play. Then the senses of position and emphasis reveal themselves. Although he avoids taking the “walk up shot” distained by most professionals, Barry clicks what he sees and 90% of the time gets what he wants. He hasn’t experienced the axiom expressed by some photographers that you can expect to get only one or two good shots from a full day’s effort.

Another unusual factor in Barry’s photography is that close to 95% of his work is done within five-minutes of his home in the Arizona desert. “I’m not in a position to travel to exotic places,” he says with a smile. “ So I do what I can with what God gives me.”

Barry’s artistic achievement results, in large part, from his joyful nature and and his optimistic attitude. For the one who doesn’t see failure as an option, it isn’t! His intense passion and limitless devotion to the work of his hands and his heart are also vital components in the rewarding life this artist has chosen.