Photo Essay: Kopana Terry



Equus & Venus

A Groom’s Love


End of the Day

The Kiss

These Boots

Equus & Venus – Talking About the Story: Kopana Terry, Artist Statement

In 1998, I took a job as a groom during the Keeneland Sales. I had no experience with horses, but I needed to do something completely different to stimulate my muse. This was completely different, all right, and it worked. Countless aspects of the horses, and the people who care for them, instantly moved me, and I began to make work that considered their lives with, and to, each other. Soon, I was working full-time at a broodmare farm where the energy begins.

Equus & Venus is the third in a triptych series created over ten years that explores the dark recesses of an often-brutal yet beautiful industry. I narrowed my focus exclusively to women’s work within the overtly male-dominated industry. They have an innate sense of nurture, compassion, and understanding, skills that are essential to a horse’s well being in whatever stage of their lives, birth to death and everything in between. And it is no secret that broodmare farms in particular prefer to hire horsewomen for their superior animal husbandry skills. Today, women are successfully entering, and fairing quite well, in every aspect of the industry beyond the foaling barns. Equus & Venus explores them all.

For the triptych series I avoided misleading ‘pretty postcard’ images many hold as truth about Kentucky Thoroughbreds – though, admittedly, there are some things so beautiful they can’t be avoided. Instead, I was drawn to the daily routine of horse and human – where the real work, the real struggles, the real joy exists. From the full-frame compositions to the finished print, my attention was on the emotion, the passion, and the synergy of the moment, ignoring artificial lights, tripods, expensive cameras with all the bells and whistles, conventional angles, anything that distracted from the “decisive moment”. I embraced blurred images over perfect compositions because nothing about the horse business is perfect. Nothing. To do this, I used a cheap Lubitel camera to bend and twist the light, coupled with my 35mm wide-angle lens, which naturally skews perspective, expanded that flawed sensation. Finally, I draped the often extraordinarily dark images in warm tones to further marry the unpretentious imagery with the empathy I felt for the women, the horses and their relationship to one another.

To quote Conrad Hall: “There is a kind of beauty in imperfection.” That’s never been truer than in the lives of horses and the women who care for them. 


Kopana Terry works in many mediums: photography, music, drawing, writing, and radio. Her writings and photography have appeared in Ilfopro, Arts Across Kentucky, Dlib, Lexington’s Herald-Leader and others. As a musician she’s best known for her work with recording artist Stealin Horses. From 2006-2010, she was co-creator and senior producer for Tonic: Arts and Music Magazine at NPR affiliate, WUKY. She’s been awarded grants from the Kentucky Arts Council, LexArts, and the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and was made a Kentucky Colonel in 1988. In 2003, her photo series Down the Backstretch: Women in the Thoroughbred Industry was awarded a citation of merit from Kentucky’s State House of Representatives. She earned her BA in Art Studio/Photography and Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Kentucky. Kopana was born and (mostly) raised in Eastern Kentucky (West Liberty), and currently makes her home in Lexington.

More from Kopana Terry:

The Outhouse: Where Art Goes