PHOTOGRAPHER RECALLS HER LIFE WITH HORSES

LEIGH HORNBECK Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: F4

Date: Friday, December 13, 2002

Barbara Livingston's love for photographing horses began when she was 10, and poverty, bad boyfriends and being told she wasn't good didn't stop her from pursuing her subject.


The photographer has 25 years of experience behind her now, along with a portfolio full of Newsweek covers, People spreads and two Eclipse awards, the highest honor the racing industry bestows on horses, jockeys, journalists and photographers.


It is Livingston's determination that Burnt-Hills Ballston Lake High School English teacher Carol Reynolds wanted her junior and senior writing students to see. Reynolds invited Livingston, a 1979 Burnt Hills graduate and Saratoga Springs resident, to speak at the school recently.


A petite woman wearing small black Reebok sneakers, Livingston, 41, still looks much like a picture of herself that ran in the book ``Women in Racing: In Their Own Words'' -- 10 years old with a camera in her hands.


She told the students stories of surviving on noodles and hot dogs, having her press credentials pulled by the New York Racing Association at the request of a track photographer when she published her first cover and coming home to Saratoga.


``I was always told you couldn't make a living at something beautiful and sweet,'' Livingston said.


Yet it was something she just had to do, and she doesn't know why. Larry Finneran and Bob Barney, who follow horse racing, joined the class. Finneran said it is Livingston's obvious love of the thoroughbred that resonates in her pictures.


Livingston started riding when she was 6 or 7 years old, she said, walking from her home in Glenville to climb onto horses owned by a Niskayuna art teacher, Paul Kant. After earning a degree from Syracuse University, she moved to Kentucky to convince The Blood-Horse magazine to give her a job. It was impossible, she said, but she kept sending in pictures.


She worked odd jobs, but quit whatever job she had as the first day of the meet at Saratoga Race Course approached. Even now, when she can get away with sleeping late, she won't miss a day of Saratoga's morning fog. She hates to think another photographer will take a great picture that she missed.


The students asked about the oddest horse name she's ever seen, her favorite horse to photograph -- it was Cigar-- and her greatest accomplishment.


Bringing writing into her work has given her the greatest satisfaction, Livingston said. Her new book, ``Old Friends,'' is about retired racehorses accompanied by essays she wrote about their history and the experience of visiting them. One photograph of StayOutFront, a 35-year-old mare, ran in The Blood-Horse and caused backlash because she looked so bad.


The horse was loved and well cared for, Livingston said, but she was the equivalent of a 110-year-old human being.


While she continues to take assignments from The Blood-Horse and does other photography work, Livingston said the books she does in the future will all incorporate writing. ``I want to get across what it's like to see, hear and smell them,'' she said.