©William Kenner
©William Kenner


Since the days of my Brownie Hawkeye, 620 film, and burn-your-fingers flashbulbs, photography has been a part of me. Until medical school I shot for fun, but as yearbook editor, I became more serious. I carried a small camera over my shoulder and under my white coat. With a pad of model releases ready for signing, the ER and wards of the Memphis charity hospital became my venue. As a psychiatry resident in Baltimore, I had my first academic experience: My teacher and the official hospital photographer, a National Geographic alum, gave me access to his darkroom and critiques.

With a bit of time on my hands, I began to study the history of photography. I had grown up on Life, Look, and Geographic. Vietnam War photographers were at their peak, and they led me to Magnum’s giants: Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Smith, Davidson, Erwitt, Halsman, and others. If I’d come from a New York Borough instead of the mountains of Tennessee, I might have spent the late 1960s and early ‘70s in Vietnam armed with a camera instead of studying medicine.

For me action photography came with parenthood: soccer, track, baseball, bicycle racing, and wrestling. When digital photography was in its infancy my wife, who has spoken horse since childhood, introduced me to photographing mounted sports. The new method of capture freed me to shoot promiscuously at 8 frames a second without the cost constraints of film, processing, and proofing. Feedback was immediate.

With access to mounted sports and proper equipment, I fell into a formula: Show up; be as close to the action as possible; take more than enough images to capture the action, and then in post processing pick out those, which illustrated Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment.” All mounted sports have horse and rider as basic elements, but each one has its own geography, pace and rhythm. Attunement to the race, game, or hunt is critical. Since I photograph these events for fun, I can show up for practices or cubbing; indulge in “overshooting,” and lavishing time on post processing for the images, which interest me.

I shot for images, which not only document the event, but also illustrate the connection of the horse, the rider, and their environment; the naked power and poise of the human/animal pair(s), and the dangers they face. When I am lucky, the composition gods align: Horse and rider lean or charge diagonally across the frame; triangular patters appear; symmetry and balance are framed as if in a still life, and leading lines drift toward infinity. Those are good days.

As Woody Allen said, “80% of life is just showing up.” For me, just watching magnificent animals and their riders is reward enough; capturing images is an added bonus. For a fleeting moment, in my viewfinder, I can ride with my subjects.

Bio: I am originally from Hawkins County in North Eastern most Tennessee. I came to Nashville on the faculty at Vanderbilt from Baltimore and stayed to practice adult and pediatric psychiatry and psychoanalysis.

Since the 1970s, MTSU in Murfreesboro has nurtured photography. With additional academic photography programs in local high schools and colleges, Nashville has developed a thriving, creative photographic nucleus. For non-professionals like myself, the Nashville and Brentwood camera clubs form the hubs of our photo lives.

While mounted sports photography forms the centerpiece of my body of work, I also shoot documentary and webpage images for Vanderbilt’s Department of Psychiatry, the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute, and local charities.