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Wild Horse Photography & The Literary Enchantment of America's Mustangs

wild horse running in a field

Photo Credit: Wild Horse Photographer Maria Marriott

As an equestrian and a passionate photographer, my journey into the world of wild mustangs has been life changing - literally. It is as though someone had a mustang cross my path in the Nevada wilderness to put my life on a different trajectory.

These remarkable creatures, often regarded as symbols of freedom and the untamed spirit of the American West, have captured the hearts and imagination of writers, poets, and artists for centuries.

Because of the importance of wild horses in my life, I’ve become fascinated by the profound role that they have played in American storytelling. And, even more fascinating to me, how wild horse photography has become a vital medium to help preserve their freedom for future generations.

An Ongoing Fascination with Wild Mustangs

Wild mustangs, descendants of Spanish horses brought to North America by conquistadors in the 16th century, have roamed the vast expanses of the American West for centuries. At one time, it is estimated that there were up to two million wild horses in the West.

One explorer in the San Joaquin Valley in the early 1800s (Overton Johnston) said that “frequently, the plain would be covered, with thousands and thousands flying in a living flood towards the hills. Huge masses of dust hung upon their rear, and marked their track across the plain; and even after they had passed entirely beyond the reach [of] vision, we could still see the dust, which they were throwing in vast clouds into the air, moving over the highlands.”

three wild horses running photo by wild horse photographer maria marriott

Photo Credit: Wild Horse Photographer Maria Marriott

“…when American settlers reached the West, horse numbers may have been in the millions. Mustangs on the Great Plains stretched from horizon to horizon. Whole areas of West Texas were marked on early maps with two words: wild horses. Explorers talked of uncountable herds that surged over the prairies in waves.” - David Philipps

These hardy, free-spirited equines have come to embody the very essence of the frontier spirit, a spirit that has been a source of fascination for writers and storytellers throughout history.

In the Words of the Masters: Literary Portraits of Mustangs

America's literary giants, from Mark Twain to Zane Grey, have drawn inspiration from the wild mustangs. In their works, these authors have celebrated the horse's strength, resilience, and indomitable spirit. Twain, in "Roughing It," wrote about the wild horses of Nevada, describing them as "a majestic troop of cavalry in uniform of snowy white." Conversely, Grey dedicated his novel "Wild Horse Mesa" to exploring the beauty and danger of the wild mustang.

wild horse photography of a black stallion with snow on his mane

Photo Credit: Wild Horse Photographer Maria Marriott

Mustangs have also made their mark in poetry. In her poem "Wild Horses," Mary Oliver captures the untamed essence of these animals: "They have flung themselves out of the green pasture, out of the water, out of the blue air, out of the day and night, to walk the earth.”

The wild mustang's enchantment lies in its ability to transcend the mundane and induce a sense of adventure, freedom, and unbridled beauty. Whether myth or reality, that longing for freedom, as embodied by wild horses, has captivated literary minds for generations.

A Literary Tradition Lives On

The literary fascination with wild mustangs is not confined to the past. Contemporary authors continue to draw inspiration from these animals. In books like "Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West" by Deanne Stillman and "Wild Horse Country: The History, Myth, and Future of the Mustang" by David Philipps, we see the enduring appeal of wild mustangs as literary subjects.

Authors like Stillman and Philipps dive into the complex history and current challenges facing wild mustangs, combining meticulous research with evocative storytelling.

I’m a fan of Wild Horse Country because of passages like this: “The mustang, on the other hand, embodies the core ideals of America. It is not pedigreed. It has no stature. Instead, it derives its nobility from the simple toughness of its upbringing in a free and open land. It is beholden to no one. It will not be subjugated. It is superior to its domestic brethren because it has the one thing Americans say they yearn for most: freedom. It is the hoofed version of Jeffersonian democracy.”

The works of these, and other contemporary authors, serve as a bridge between the past and the present, ensuring that the literary memory of mustangs remains vibrant and relevant.

Preserving A Legacy: The Power of Wild Horse Photography

I have had the privilege of venturing into the heart of the American West to document these remarkable beings in their natural habitat. The art of documenting the strength, spirit, and beauty of wild mustangs through wild horse photography is a deeply enriching experience that allows me to share their untamed beauty with the world.

In a sense, I view my mission as somewhat literary and my wild horse artwork as a form of visual narrative. Similar to a novel, in which the author is able to develop context and a storyline to ultimately communicate wisdom or uncover some truth, a series of images showing the mustangs in their natural habitat can tell a story and change the way that people see them.

As I’ve observed wild horses over several years, especially in their relationships and family bonds, the narrative that most strikes me is the similarity of their behaviors to how we see ourselves - or how we wish to see ourselves in our best moments. These are narratives of freedom and inspiration.

two wild horses being friendly to each other

Photo Credit: Wild Horse Photographer Maria Marriott

The resilience of a stallion beat back on multiple occasions, who eventually succeeds in finding a mate… The survivors who thrive despite their circumstances and despite the odds… The stallions that will fight to the death to protect their bands… The unselfish mares who, seeing a foal in need, come to the rescue…

These are the stories that need to be told and retold - whether through literature or art - because they remind us of the most important virtues and are a metaphor of what we aspire to in our relationships. These are the types of stories I strive to present in an artistic way through my wild horse photography.

A Narrative That Must Be Heard

Photography also plays a vital role in bringing attention to the American wild horses, animals that most don’t even know exist. With the infiltration of civilization continuing to threaten their habitats, and the largely ineffective management of these living legends on our public lands, more awareness is needed if mustangs are to still be roaming free on our Western lands for future generations.

I believe that artistic wild horse photography has the power to stir the the public imagination and help people understand the important role mustangs have played in our history. Because art touches the emotions, it is a powerful tool to evoke empathy and raise awareness about the challenges faced by mustangs today. And, in certain images of wild horses and the associated stories, it is possible to catch a glimpse of the best parts of our shared national identity.

Because of that, I chose to actively support organizations dedicated to preserving the freedom of wild mustangs with portion of the proceeds from each artwork sale.

The Power of Black and White

Now to answer a few other questions that frequently come up about my work…People often ask why much of my images are presented in black and white.

Black and white photography allows me to strip away distractions and focus on the raw, emotional core of the moment. The monochrome palette brings out the intricate details - the texture of mustangs' coats, the play of light and shadow on a stallion’s muscular body, the intensity in their eyes. It helps a viewer see what is important in the image in a different way - undistracted by the colors or by what they are expecting to see.

intimate portrait of a wild horse with a glassy eye

Photo Credit: Wild Horse Photographer Maria Marriott

If my goal is to tell a visual narrative, one which my viewers emotionally connect to, it is necessary to present an image in a way that provokes a visceral reaction. Attempting to engage the other senses (besides sight) is a way to do this: can you (almost) feel the texture of the horse’s coat?; can you (almost) smell the aroma of the sagebrush?; do you (almost) choke on the clouds of dust in the air? Black and white images can help emphasize these connections by eliminating distractions.

Some images, though, are so stunning in color that I have chosen to create a separate gallery. It includes some of my most popular and award winning images in living color such as Cremello Dust and Wild Under Sunrise.

two wild horses running and kicking dust under sunrise color

Photo Credit: Wild Horse Photographer Maria Marriott

Production of Fine Art Horse Photography

I could write an entire blog on the subject of what makes (or doesn’t make) wild horse photography “art”. But until I do… you can read my post "Elegant Interior Statements: How To Enhance Spaces With Wild Horse Fine Art Photography" that begins to address this and some important questions to think about as you are selecting wild horse artwork for your home. See especially the section on “Wild Horse Photography As Art.”

I’m highly focused on creating quality pieces that will last for generations. For my more traditional framed pieces, this means using museum-quality archival papers and inks. It also means working with the best framers in the industry to create framing that not only protects, but also best displays these pieces.

For more modern settings, we produce pieces using dye sublimation on aluminum, which not only provides vivid contrasts (and colors) but a highly durable finish in a piece that is ready to hang. Although you can clearly see the difference in quality between this process and typical aluminum prints by looking at the image details, I encourage my potential collectors to look at the back of my metal pieces where the quality level becomes even more apparent.

the back of a wild horse metal piece

Your Invitation…

The fascination with wild horses in American literature is clear. And most of us probably hold onto memories of reading children’s books like “The Black Stallion” or seeing movies like “Spirit”. I’ve found that these types of associations with the mustangs in art and literature foster a longing for a simpler reality, a place where the better human traits are still evident, and a reminder of many of the qualities that we, as Americans, hold dear.

For both who have never had the opportunity to witness wild mustangs in their natural habitat, and those who have, my photography offers a window into their hidden world.

I invite you to visit Maria Marriott Photography and view my extensive collection of wild horse fine art.

Each image tells a story of freedom, strength, and grace and serves as a reminder of the need to protect and cherish the legacy of America's wild mustangs.

For more details, feel free to CONTACT ME today!


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