Joanna Jonientz – German photographer, born in Poland. In the interview with Urszula Łęczycka she is telling how it is like to be one of the most famous Arabian horse photographers in the world, how her career started and developed and why she used to photograph in Egypt so often.
Urszula Łęczycka: Not many people know that besides taking photographs you also draw. What was first – the drawings or photos?
Joanna Jonientz: Drawings came first, I started already in kindergarten.
UŁ: What did you draw?
JJ: Sometimes dogs and other animals, but horses were always my number one subject! I used pencil and coal, only just lately I discovered pastel crayons, which are currently my favorite drawing technique.
UŁ: Which one of your paintings do you enjoy the most?
JJ: As always the newest ones – at least in the beginning I’m happy with them. But as time goes by I begin to notice their imperfection… I always think that I could have drawn them better.
UŁ: Your favorite painters?
JJ: I love the Kossaks, mostly Juliusz of course. In my opinion his paintings are incredible – his Arabian horses give me shivers! When it comes to contemporary artists I respect and like Andrzej Novak-Zempliński and Zbigniew Kotowski.
UŁ: Let’s move on to live horses – what was your first contact with these animals?
JJ: They were draught horses, which belonged to my neighbor, who was a farmer. I was only 6 years old then, but I could already say that they were the most beautiful horses in the area. The owner cared for them dearly and treated with great respect. I came to his stable everyday to admire them. I was allowed to groom and even ride them!
UŁ: Are horses the only subject of your photos?
JJ: I regard animals and children as the most graceful models to immortalize in photographs – they’re so natural. When my dogs – two female Australian Shepherds – see me going out for a walk with a camera in hand, they wearily roll their eyes (laughter). Ever since I can remember, I admired photos of beautiful horses in the magazines, although at first I did not realize that the ones I liked the most were Arabian. I knew instinctively that for me they were the most beautiful in the world, even more than my neighbor’s horses… though of course I never told him that (laughter).
So most often I photograph Arabian horses. I can watch and admire them without end. I will let you in on a little secret – sometimes I even have tears of joy in my eyes at the sight of Arabian horses.
UŁ: So you probably remember your first live contact with Arabian horses.
JJ: I will never forget where I definitively caught the “arabitis” virus! The first holiday with my girlfriends and without my parents took me to Janów Podlaski for the National Show. I was 15 years old. The sight of those horses shocked me – they turned out to be even more beautiful than in their photos! I felt as though hypnotized up to such a point, that my friends thought I had gotten ill. I saw many horses then, but the one that stood out in my memory was Arra – she was a true marvel to me. There wasn’t a single horse in Janów then that I didn’t pat or visit in the paddock. That trip was an unforgettable experience for me.
UŁ: Your favorite Arabian horses are…?
JJ: Polish of course.
JJ: I grew up among them. I fell in love with them as a 15 year old and you never forget your first love! Of course other Arabians – of Egyptian or Russian blood – are also beautiful and in my career as a photographer I have seen many horses that took my breath away. But “my Arabians” are “Polish Arabians”.
UŁ: You were born in Raciborz in Poland and you lived here until 1987. Why did you leave and where to?
JJ: I went with my parents to West Germany. My family always wanted to emigrate there because of our roots: we come from the Śląsk region and my parents and grandparents were born in Germany. I also went with them because I wanted to see the world and I knew that in those times I had a better chance abroad to live the life I wanted.
UŁ: How did the establishing of the first contacts with foreign Arabian horse breeders go?
JJ: Around 4 years ago I sent my photographs to „Araber Journal” and „Arabian Horse World”. I decided to patiently wait for their reaction… and it happened! I received an inquiry about more photos, which… got me frightened! Now I think that my pictures differ from the works of other photographers and perhaps that’s why they are interesting for the magazines dealing with Arabian horses. Whereas the contacts with the breeders came by themselves – thanks to the published photos, which appealed to many people.
UŁ: I understand that during your trip to the US the stallion Monogramm made a huge impression on you – why?
JJ: You have to see this stallion yourself – he has so much charm, beauty as well as gentleness. He’s simply a SUPERSTAR and he knows it!
UŁ: Do you like to photograph Monogramm’s offspring just as much?
JJ: Oh yes! His foals are beautiful, they have many features of their sire. When I look at them, I always smile to myself: just like dad…
UŁ: You also established many contacts in the Middle East.
JJ: I’m quite well known in Europe, my work is also recognized in Egypt – I go there at least 2-3 times a year. I still have to make a name for myself in the Middle East. I think I might have that opportunity in 2007, as I’ve been invited to Kuwait and Israel. We’ll see…
UŁ: Was it hard for a woman-photographer to establish contacts and receive permission to photograph horses in the Arabic countries?
JJ: Definitely yes. It is harder for women than for men over there – we have to be much better than the male photographers.
UŁ: Did any strange, dangerous or funny occurrence take place during photographing in those countries?
JJ: Once I photographed a beautiful, black stallion, full of fiery temperament. Two people brought him out of the stable, while he was rearing up and practically walking on his hind legs, starting to foam at the mouth and struggling. He was difficult to photograph, only making a mess in the paddock. I decided to postpone the session until the next day, so once again a couple of men were needed to catch him and… that’s when a young boy appeared, he must have had around 6-7 years. He came up to the stallion and the animal at once calmed down. He was so gentle that a saddle was put on his back and the lucky boy was placed in it. “The black beast” was almost holding his breath, so that nothing would happen to the child! That was a beautiful experience – I think that only Arabian horses are capable of such a feat.
UŁ: What studs, people or horses from the Middle East do you remember most?
JJ: That’s a tough question. I met many breeders in Egypt, who have beautiful studs with horses that take your breath away. Breeders like Dr Nasr Marei of Al Badeia Stud, Fatma Hanza, Sheikh Bagedo of Al Khaled Farm or Sheikh Khaled of Rabab Stud are among the major, longtime breeders in Egypt. All you need to do is look and listen to how they talk about their studs – you can see that they love horses.
UŁ: Why do you like to take pictures in the Arabic countries so much?
JJ: The atmosphere is absolutely unique there – such sunrises or light on the desert is not to be seen anywhere else. Besides that it is the place of origin of the Arabian horse and you can see that in the photos: the desert and the Arabian horse need no comment. It is both perfect and genuine at the same time!
UŁ: Your favorite photo is…
JJ: I have a couple of favorite photos and every season new ones join this group. Often they are photos that tell a certain story, as with the boy and black stallion. I like some photographs for their special atmosphere, their moment in time… I think that sometimes I manage to photograph the horse’s soul.
UŁ: During the shows you do a lot of photos outside of the ring as well – why?
JJ: A horse show is not just about the picture-perfect poses. Of course I do such photos, because I must (laughter) – you can see the conformation of the horse and based on that you can evaluate the correctness of the animal. But quite honestly such photos bore me. A horse show is a living organism – so I try to immortalize moments showing the atmosphere of the show and country where it is being held.
UŁ: And how does your regular, every day life look like?
JJ: In front of the computer – these are the times of the digital cameras… Taking pictures is a pleasure, the real work starts at home – you have to sort through the photos, often prepare them in a special way and describe them. It takes a lot of time. Luckily I also have my dogs, which make me go out with them – they are the best that could happen to me – loyal, intelligent, beautiful, joyful and cherished.
UŁ: And a horse of your own?
JJ: Unfortunately, I don’t have my own horse. My work is absorbing, I travel a lot and I wouldn’t have time for him – just the dogs alone give me enough activity. But whenever I have a chance I ride in western style. Owning a horse is of course a dream of mine – I think that I will have him once: my own, Polish Arabian!
Born in 1967 in Raciborz. She currently lives in Leichlingen (North Rhine Westfalia).
She contributes to „Araber Journal”, “Araber Weltweit”, „Arabian Horse World”, „Tutto Arabi”, „Koń Polski” and websites (polskiearaby.pl, straightegyptians.com among others) and other Arabian horse publications.
She works with Canon EOS Mark II D.