Kansas City-based photographer Sylvia Augustus channels her experiences working in Yosemite National Park into a passion for the plight of wild horses. Her images capture the beauty and strength of the wild American equine. We are happy to share an interview with Augustus about her amazing work.
You previously lived and worked at Yosemite National park for 5 years, was it hard to leave such a gorgeous place?
I was the park historic architect. Yosemite has over 400 historic structures and landscapes within the park. I was responsible for the stewardship of these resources which included: old stage coach barns, back country cabins, employee housing built for the early park employees, visitor centers, historic bridges and roads built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, apple orchards, meadows and historic visitor accommodations such as the Ahwahnee, Wawona and Camp Curry. Yosemite is a magical place. I was so extremely fortunate to have such a dream job. Life is quite different there. Forest fires, rockslides and floods take a toll on a person. After five years, I had enough of those events and I was also interested in pursuing other career opportunities.
Are you a horse rider as well as a horse photographer?
I love horses. Unfortunately, I do not ride. I am very allergic to them.
What attracts you to wild horses? Do you consider them to be endangered?
I am attracted to their grace, beauty and power. There are approximately 80,000 wild equines in the United States on lands managed by the United States Bureau of Land Management. This number does not include the horses or burros in state parks, on Reservations or on lands managed by other Federal agencies such as the National Park Service. Wild equines are fighting to survive as their populations increase and they compete with cattle for grazing areas. Most land management agencies have a targeted number of equines for specific geographic areas as part of their land management strategy. When the populations increase, the Bureau of Land Management uses low flying helicopters to round up the equines, which causes them to stampede. Those that survive the round up are sold at public auction. Other land management agencies will administer birth control using a dart and/or use equine rescue groups to find homes when areas are overpopulated with equines.
What would make a horse photo perfect?
I think there are several ways to compose the perfect horse photograph. A good photograph can simply be one with a strong composition that shows a wild mustang in his landscape or it could be one with dramatic lighting that emphasizes a mare’s muscles and facial features.
How often throughout the year are you able to photograph wild horses?
Pre pandemic I would take trips out west or to the Dakota’s at least two times per year.
What are you working on currently?
Short term - I am currently looking through previously shot photographs that I have never printed and post processing some of them worthy of printing. I am also working on some small horse sculptures. Long term - I have been working on two family related projects. One involves photographing the beautiful tools that belonged to my grandfather who was a tool and die maker. The other project is curatorial in nature as it involves putting together an exhibition of the photographs taken and music produced by my late uncle Esmond Edwards. Originally hired as a freelance photographer by Bob Weinstock at Prestige Records, he went on to a very illustrious career as a record producer. Working at Prestige, Chess, Argo and Columbia he produced the albums of the greats including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, BB King, Ramsey Lewis and many others. He always had his camera with him, capturing some of the greatest moments in Jazz. The iconic cover for Coltrane /Prestige 7105 was shot and designed by my Uncle Esmond Edwards.
Books on my night table & on my iPhone:
The Forgotten Horses by Tony Stromberg
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities by Craig Steven Wilder
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
White Trash: The 400-year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg