Revisiting Susan Friedman’s Enchanting Equine Photography

Today marks the anniversary of the publication of 50 Horses, a collection of horse photography taken by the artist Susan Friedman. The 26-page book draws viewers in with the cover image of a white faintly speckled horse. Though the horse is stationary, the wind through its mane adds a dynamic element to the black-and-white photograph, and the side profile taken of its face showcases its power even as it stands motionless.

Even though Susan grew up interested in art, she never pursued it. Talking to FF2 Collaborator Elisa Shoenberger a year ago, Susan explained, “I was deemed to be ‘a student’ and my sister was seen as ‘an artist.’ She had the art room and if you snuck in to use any of her equipment, she was horrible! So, I went back to my little hole where I did a lot of reading.”

Though perhaps not dabbling in photography at a very early age, Susan eventually became entranced with the medium after seeing a beautiful photograph taken by her hairdresser, who also happened to be a professor of photography at the New School. Quickly, Susan discovered a deep passion for the art form, so she went all in, borrowing her sister’s camera and photographing a drive all the way across the United States. This was her free-spirited introduction to her own photographic ability. She hasn’t stopped taking photos since.

Over Susan’s impressive career, the Museum of Modern Art, the Oakland Museum, The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the Bibliothèque Nationale have all collected her still pieces. She has had one-woman exhibitions in San Francisco, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Tokyo. Susan also worked for thirty years on the faculty of the art department of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Though her work in photography has been so successful, Susan has not allowed only one medium to define her as an artist; she is a filmmaker as well.

Though her work in photography has been so successful, Susan has not allowed only one medium to define her as an artist; she is a filmmaker as well.

Susan’s website features fifteen of her short films, which range in topic from the weather, to juggling, to the make-up of the universe. Though some of the films’ titles mimic each other, they are each stylistically unique, some shot in black and white, others in color, some informative, others more abstract.

In 2021, Susan released Making Art of Life, a short film about her life and work. In it, Susan speaks directly to the audience as her photography and clips from her films light up the screen, each different subject tied seamlessly together through the common thread of Susan herself.

Throughout Susan’s film career, the value of her work has been recognized by a diverse group of organizations. In 1985, Susan won the SECA award in filmmaking from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her work has been funded by many different institutions, including The National Endowment for the Arts, Fleishacker Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and The Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Additionally, one of Susan’s films has had the honor of being put into the Smithsonian.

Susan eventually took her experiences in filmmaking and put them into a new kind of photography: photographing horses. Though her shots of horses are stills, the elements of filmmaking are still necessary to photograph such a dynamic and powerful subject. In each of her photographs of horses, Susan attempts to find something completely new for the audience to latch onto. She explained to FF2, “For instance, the series I did on just the torsos of the horse, I wanted to take it out of the romantic idea of the horse to more abstract painterly work. I thought of the torso as a canvas, and it changes.” Susan says her photography is not only changing how the audience might perceive her subjects, but documenting that change forever. 

In each of her photographs of horses, Susan attempts to find something completely new for the audience to latch onto.

Susan’s photographs of horses have been shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Café Museo, Spur Gallery, IWOLK Gallery, and Cordon Potts Gallery, where she debuted her solo show The Edge of Forever in 2017. In 2022, Susan released a calendar of her horse photography, Equus, through Pomegranate, a publishing company that specializes in incorporating art into people’s daily lives. Each month of the calendar showcases a different horse, each of whom’s unique personalities are given a chance to shine through Susan’s photographs.

When asked about what the audience should take away from her photography, Susan replied, “One thing I think is important is seeing what’s invisible to other people. There’s something in the horses that evokes what humans have lost in a way – that spirit and sense of wildness. I think horses take us there in a way.”

© Reese Alexander (5/26/23) FF2 Media


Read Elisa Shoenberger’s Article on Susan Friedman here.

Visit Susan Friedman’s website here.

Watch Making Art of Life here.


Featured Photo: Photo of Susan (taken in France by Bianca McCarty) was provided by Susan and is used with her permission. All rights reside with her. Thanks, Susan!

Tags: 50 Horses, Equus, horse, horses, Making Art of Life, photography, Susan Friedman, The Edge of Forever, women photographers

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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