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Lensjockeys and Rock Lists: Photographer Holly Van Voast’s Top 10 Albums of All Time

February 18, 2009

Holly Van Voast Shoots Jockeys Mostly

#5 in an ongoing series of Top Ten Lists by my favorite photographers, writers, and musicians. Check out the Top Ten lists of Barbara Livingston, Bill Finley, Bud Morton, and Jonathan Andrew.

Holly Van Voast

Holly Van Voast… the original female Bob Dylan… the Chrissie Hynde of racing photography.

The first place I saw Holly Van Voast’s work was when she turned the Final Turn photo gallery upside down. The Final Turn photo gallery is devoted to images taken by racing fans. Photos of Mineshaft, Azeri, and Storm Flag Flying. Pretty pony paddock pics. A place to learn about shutter speed and pedigrees.

One day, a new set of photos was added to the gallery. It was titled The Woodlawn Invitational Cup. This set of photos featured composites, made both with taped prints and Photoshop, of crisply shot racehorses storming through a cemetery. The trees matched the colors of the silks. The horses charged down the paths on a mission, past stones and mausoleums, winding around trees toward their destination. The best part of the collection was the comments. Every photo had a remark under it about the light, the jockey, the intent of the artist. This chick seemed to have some ideas about photography, New York, and jockeys. Great stuff. I really dug it.

You would not believe the firestorm these photos caused in the online racing fan community. They blasted Holly for her frank treatment of death and were disturbed by the closeness of the graves to the horses and riders. Cruel! Sick! Twisted!

Really?! Come on, people. This is great stuff! Those who saw death and mayhem were creating their own reality based on their interpretations of her work. And that, my friends, is art.

Holly Hearts Jocks, Especially Norberto

I eagerly followed Holly’s photographic love affair with Edgar Prado and Norberto Arroyo, Jr. After each big race day, people would post their photos in the gallery. Everybody would have the same shot of Henny Hughes. Except for Holly. She’d have a commentary about the hands of his jockey as he got a leg up onto his mount. Or the mood of the paddock before the race. Or the way the jocks look like bullfighters. And pictures of Bud Morton. Brilliant.

The first time I met Holly, we were by the paddock at Belmont Park. I shyly introduced myself and she gave me a big hug, a kiss on the cheek, and a “Nice shoes!”. I expected her to be a quiet, brooding artist slithering in the shadows, but she’s far more outgoing and sweet to strangers than I am.

Holly during her famed Woodlawn phase

Digital photography has made excellent art so instant and accessible. Everybody sees the perfect Bill Denver inside rail shot and copies it. Everybody sees the perfect Barbara Livingston Saratoga scene and mimics it. But Holly forges a punk rock path all the way from the Aqueduct paddock to the tree-lined riding paths at Saratoga. She has love for the pillars of racing, like the Whitneys and the Phippses, but she also shines a bright Panasonic spotlight on the rest of the sport. There is light and there are lines beyond the shape of the racetrack. Holly Van Voast hears Spanish music as she shoots. She feels the heartbeat of New York as the horses line up for the post parade. She sees an entire reality behind the ordinary and she’s not tight-lipped about it; Holly candidly shares her thoughts in the descriptions of her photos. A blast of brightness in her images complements the way she captures subjects- depth of field is turned upside down and much of her work would be at home in some sort of complicated graphic novel.

Holly Van Voast

A wonderful byproduct of Holly’s work is that I’m beginning to see imitators, people who dig her vision and do their best to recreate it: Aqueduct-lovin’ jockey sharpshooters. I admit that I see Holly’s favorite jocks in a new light and now have a short list of my own favorite riders to shoot. And I open my eyes a little wider to see what else is going on in the paddock as the horses are being paraded before the featured race.

NY's Fastest

Holly’s artistic vision is not unlike her fabulous collages and curtains. Her subjects overlap, her worlds collide. She sees the architecture of Manhattan as personalities. She hears punk rock roaring through the hallowed horsepaths of Saratoga. Store window mannequins speak to her. The Lindy Hop is alive in 2009.

The Racing Curtain

Holly melts into the city

And of course, there is the storied portrait that Holly took of Kurt Vonnegut. Looks like he could be sitting on a bench at Belmont waiting for his horse to walk through the tunnel.

Kurt Vonnegut

Keep your eyes peeled for Lensjockey Magazine– guerrilla-style, competitive photography based in New York.

A star is a star with or without you

What rocks Holly Van Voast? Check out her Top Ten List:

1. New York Dolls – New York Dolls: a once crushing, now frantically poignant scream. A poetic and frighteningly right New York City Landmark originally about 12” in diameter. The Dolls were “ON.” Brilliant and untouchable like the best bitch — and dressed better too. They mock you, they mock me with their own knowledge of their rocking greatness — I have a pet theory about “stars” of any ilk. I believe that certain people, certain groups, are stars with or without fans. The New York Dolls most definitely deserved more fans in their own time, and now, but you cannot deny that they were stars with or without us. Live circa video versions of these songs are so riveting and unusual. This is the first and only album of rock songs that has ever made me cry because of the unbelievable beauty and complete, well rendered rock perfection in the arrangements and the writing — stuff that is only more powerful if you know the story of the band. A song called Trash, that’s what made me cry. Wtf?

2. Bob Dylan – “Like a Rolling Stone: this is the single that sounds like an album. It gives me the shivers listening to it – the actual process of recording and releasing of this song of this song is/was so interesting. To me the effect of this one song in that day’s pop industry was akin to that of Picasso’s Guernica. Shards and sharp cutting and five different places at once — a huge and frightening apparition of a song. One of the best portraits painted in rock. The summer of 1965 rocked like no other summer. Imagine hearing that for the first time riding around in your car, on a hot summer night in NYC. If I could have directed a video for that song, it would have just been someone driving around and turning on the radio and that comes on, as you drive over a bump in the flooring of a bridge. Any or all of the bridges around NYC.

3. Grace Jones – Nightclubbing: my favorite album to loop indefinitely. I never had the album itself, but the cassette tape I had had the whole album on both sides which I loved. It’s dark, dangerous and totally NYC. You can almost smell the coke.

4. Nirvana – Unplugged in New York: listening to Kurt Cobain makes me want to shake him, the banter between songs is almost distracting and self-conscious but not to the point where it diminishes the songs. My favorite song on this album, is “The Man Who Sold the World” — one of my favorite cover songs.

5. Soundtrack from the movie Times Square: TS was a early eighties movie that has some of the best pre-Disney Times Square footage ever. The soundtrack includes Gary Newman, Roxy Music, the Pretenders, Suzie Quatro, The Cars… Gary US Bonds… and some thrilling yet weakish songs from the movie sung by the stars. It’s dated, it was sloppy, it was a fantasy, but it was the movie and the soundtrack that made me want to move to New York City.

6. The Bee Gees — Saturday Night Fever: the flawless production and the insane Barry Gibb vocalizations — they awe me. When this album was released I lived nowhere near New York City, but I could feel the city in the songs I’d hear on the radio when I was little and living in the boonies. The Bee Gees are from Australia but that didn’t stop them from making an album so New Yorky — I love that too. The non-Bee Gee songs are great too… I ❤ the Bee Gees.

7. The Pretenders – That first white album with Chrissie Hynde and Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott and Martin Chambers: If there could be a Chrissie Hynde of horse racing photographers, that’s who I’d want to be. Noisy dirty pictures with a lot of attitude, and a strange tough romanticism. “Up the Neck” is my favorite.

8. The Beatles – The White Album: I loved the poster that came with it, and it’s one of my favorite albums to listen to with earphones. There has always been something sort of clinical about The White Album that I liked. To me, you could call that album “The Beatles Experiment” – that’s what it was to me. I love the loosisity and general realacy of the songs. I like the way Paul did songs from the later years. “Mother Nature’s Son” is one of the songs on that album that I always play at least once after the first listening. The Ringo “Goodnight” bit is so perfect and precious, just like Ringo. It’s like you can see the stars in it. I love “Revolution 1”. I Love “I Will.” And “Dear Prudence”. I have to add that I had a really hard time deciding between this album and Let It Be. And I love the Beatles footage from this part of their career.

9. The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle: it has SWINDLE in the title. I like that, and I love all the crazy bits in this album. It’s almost creepy. I love the songs Eddie Tudorpole sings. And Malcolm McLaren singing “You Need Hands” is too much. This is actually a soundtrack album from a really strange rock artifact of the same name – loosely based on the Sex Pistols. The cover photography always intrigued me, it’s a weird composition including big constructed letters and a punk dwarf. The art direction for the Sex Pistols and the punk era really influenced my photography. Some jockeys are punks!

10 The Best of Blondie: the reason is that drum work of Clem Burke’s on “Dreaming” – and everything else.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2009 12:27 pm

    10 The Best of Blondie: the reason is that drum work of Clem Burke’s on “Dreaming” – and everything else.


    Yeah baby. Holly Van Voast rules !
    Didn’t we have a discussion about Karen Carpenter’s drumming a while back? Never mind that, but boy that Clem Burke is insane.

    The avant garde (if I can call her that) Ms. Van Voast
    strikes a responsive chord. Anyone who’s brave enough to put the Bee Gees and Bob Dylan in the same list has to be such an eccentric. 😀

    Love ya Holly.
    I’ve even got at Fernando Jara avatar up at TBC.
    The song remains the same: Do you hear the drums, Fernando?

  2. February 18, 2009 2:03 pm

    Yes she does rock, Norm!

    I remember reading The Platinum Collection comments in the liner notes about “Dreaming” and Burke sounded a little embarassed nowadays about the fearless and flashy fills. Balderdash!!! “Dreaming” drumming rules.

  3. February 18, 2009 2:55 pm

    it’s official.

  4. February 18, 2009 3:22 pm

    I do believe that’s my all time favorite Blondie song.
    I remember that was a top 10 hit when President Reagan was a target in D.C.
    I had just come home from high school and that was on all the networks.

    Feet Feet, walkin’ a two mile.
    Meet Meet, meet me at the turnstile.

    I never met him.
    I’ll never forget him.

    I know I had that YouTubed somewhere.
    Most had poor audio but there was one quality clip of that Clem Burke
    and Deb Harry of course looked like a stunner that evening. 😉

    BTW what’s The Platinum Collection?

  5. February 18, 2009 3:29 pm

    I’m pretty sure I linked the Youtubed “Dreaming” video above, Mr. T. K. Sky!

    The Platinum Collection is a pretty sweet Blondie compilation:

  6. February 18, 2009 5:03 pm

    I love Holly’s stuff. Especially this one of Prado. Art, indeed.

  7. February 18, 2009 5:03 pm

    Edgar Prado outside the jockeys room at Saratoga

  8. February 18, 2009 7:17 pm

    Norms –
    I remember seeing Blondie do it on Saturday Night Live, and Deb had on this outrageously beautiful brown leather/plastic jumpsuit. I was so young, and it did something to me. That was such a great time for music.

    Gina – thanks. I put that on the cover of LENSJOCKEY number one.

  9. February 18, 2009 7:19 pm

    I miss Jara up here. He was fun to watch. I wish that Jockeys show was on the East Coast. Show them how it’s done.

  10. February 18, 2009 7:39 pm

    You’ve got that right! East Coast style!

  11. February 19, 2009 10:05 am

    dewd, the NYC scene alone – please. I guess that background is sort of cool with the palm trees and stuff, but I gotta say that – I hate to say that, but the jockeys on this coast are the coolest.

    or at least Eibar Coa could have a show of his own he is so over-the-top. Anyway I have yet to see the friggin show! hopefully I can catch it at a friend’s house this weekend – I haven’t had cable in years. I’ve only seen parts on youtube. The emotional reality show sense about it seems forced, but noone has done anything that much with jockeys so doing something like this seems like – well, it’s interesting to see what someone thought of doing with them.

  12. February 19, 2009 10:12 am

    Norm – thanks for the appreciative stance! I totally am loving the love.

    I love Donna Summer too, what a great summer voice she had. God I totally love people who sound like they are from NYC. that’s all I heard on the radio and saw on the TV in upstate NY. And I could not wait to get here. for way too many years hahaha.
    living through 8th grade in the years like that was heaven.

    NYRA has just put out a couple of trainer videos on youtube that are cool. so low key. hahaha. very interesting. It makes me interested in learning about Frank Martin. Anyone who sees conformation well, I am in awe. It’s an art that is totally lost on me, yet, I feel that I can do it in a way with people best, but only with jockeys hahaha, or photographers!

  13. P D permalink
    February 19, 2009 1:15 pm

    “you can almost smell the coke”…genius. Island Life trumps that one for me. Though it may be a repackaged ‘greatest hits,’ the album cover is timeless.

  14. February 19, 2009 2:40 pm

    well, that cover is indeed a classic. she is just so fantastic, I love her so much. There is noone like her!


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