Skip to content

Ritual de lo Habitual: Photographer Charles Pravata’s Top Ten Albums of All Time

April 17, 2009

Charles Pravata and Casino Drive

In Spanish, “Ritual De Lo Habitual” means the ritual of the habitual. Taking our daily lives and making them sacred, or taking our addictions and making ritual of them. It’s a high-minded mission, and it is for that reason worth celebrating. Most albums are content to share a good time (or a sad one) between the artists and the listeners, but some work to make the ordinary and the sordid to appear to us as truth and transcendence. –Justin Hall’s 1999 Nude As The News wrapup of the iconic 1990 Jane’s Addiction release, Ritual de lo Habitual

I’ve got a thing for discipline. I don’t like hearing about how Paul McCartney does not know how to write or read music. My head spins when I hear about people who learned to ride in a back yard on a green horse. My teeth grit when I read about painters who rocket to notoriety with artwork that has no foundation in the history of art. Without a foundation, art is cheap and one-dimensional. You cannot have subversive creativity without knowing what you’re subverting. One only gains artistic breadth and scope with an eye on every other artist who has tried before to express the very same concept, emotion, or theory.

Charles Pravata is our country’s best horse racing photographer under the age of 35. Imagine my horror when I found out that he’d only been shooting a year or so before his work started gracing Daily Racing Form covers and showing up in all of the most prestigious racing publications in the country. How did a person with no formal training and half a decade of practice become a highly-esteemed editorial photographer in the racing community and a big inspiration to my own development as a photographer?

A little more than three years ago, I remember wondering, “who IS this punk?” as I browsed through Pravata’s killer photos of Brother Derek on Flickr. I’ve been a racing fan since I was a little girl and I never saw his name before on photos credits in editions of Blood-Horse or Thoroughbred Times. At the time, I was looking to take a step into photography and was in the market for my very first SLR camera. I had sent out several emails to people who shot equine sports asking for help selecting a camera and a lens. Of the dozens of emails I sent, only a handful wrote back: Charles was one of them (Bud Morton was another). He was not the typical condescending, mystical, tight-lipped shooter- he was happy to share details about lenses and cameras and answer any questions I had.

I met Charles the following year and we got to spend some quality time in my home state, standing on ladders in torrential downpours on the inside rail at Monmouth Park for the 2007 Breeders’ Cup. Photographers all around us complained about the weather and groused about water in their cameras, but Charles enjoyed the mud and the grit- you can almost taste the sloppy track in his photo of Curlin winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. It was a far cry from the arid air and synthetic racing surfaces of his home state of California, where the Breeders’ Cup was held the following year.

When I went out to Santa Anita for the 2008 Breeders’ Cup, I learned first-hand just how challenging the light can be, with the harsh sunlight and the off-kilter grandstand angle. But when you look at Charles’ work, the shadows and angles are incorporated handily into excellent images. He is a master of harnessing light and using it to his advantage:

Santa Teresita, by Charles Pravata

Santa Teresita, by Charles Pravata

Strong Faith

Colonel John, by Charles Pravata

Colonel John, by Charles Pravata

But mastery of light is not the only ingredient in his images. Through his lifelong love of racing, he manages to capture the essence of the track and distill it into his photos:

Storm at Santa Anita, by Charles Pravata

Storm at Santa Anita, by Charles Pravata

Santa Anita, by Charles Pravata

Santa Anita, by Charles Pravata

Del Mar

Del Mar Start

Del Mar Start

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and now residing in California, Charles knows the best and worst of both coasts of racing. Talk to Charles and you’ll learn a lot about the sport- look at his photos and you’ll learn even more. From a deeper place still come the most creative and evocative photos of his collection, from his artistic statements about the sport to his creative treatment of the warrior Curlin and American girl, Zenyatta. I so dig the surreal and illustrative treatment of his favorite horses.

Curlin

Zenyatta; still perfect.

Zenyatta; Champion

Zenyatta, by Pravata

Zenyatta, by Pravata

And sometimes Rock and Racehorses gets way out-rocked!

Andy Summers, by Charles Pravata

Andy Summers, by Charles Pravata

Perry Farrell, by Charles Pravata

Perry Farrell, by Charles Pravata

Discipline is needed to shape an artist. But perhaps my definition of discipline is a little short-sighted. Perhaps art school is not the only place to learn the laws of composition and exposure and to study the greats who have come before us. Maybe the hot California sun is the spotlight on the studio of Santa Anita. And maybe the work of the Old Masters surrounds us at the racetrack, hangs on the walls in the racing museums, and lives on the pages of our epistles, the racing trade publications. No matter how I attempt to define it, Pravata has made a holy ritual of our habitual. Truth and transcendence.

What does Charles Pravata rock out to on his way to the track? Here’s his list of the Top Ten Albums of All Time:

1. Jane’s Addiction – Ritual De Lo Habitual “Stop”, “Then She Did”, “Three Days”, “Ain’t No Right”, “Of Course”, etc. “Three Days” is one of the greatest rock anthems of all time. Stranded on an island, this is the one album I want with me. The one TV show would be The Honeymooners, but that’s another list.

One of the funniest things about Nothing’s Shocking, Jane’s Addiction’s much-ballyhooed 1988 release, was how it skewed the conventions of L.A. Sunset Strip metal, managing to be distinctively perverse in a world already saturated with bad taste and bacchanalia. At times the music was glorious, playful psychedelic metal, as Perry Farrell’s avant-gypsy garb, weird eye makeup and prepubescent voice plugged you into the visionary amorality of children. With its trippy nature imagery and porno bent, Nothing’s Shocking struck the gong.

Ritual de lo Habitual finds Jane’s Addiction thin and wandering, blowing ploys that worked before – overdubs and echoes, loose jamming, Farrell’s playground melodies. Split into a hard-rockin’ side and a prog-rock side, the album doesn’t cohere – whatever the band members have been doing for the last two years, they haven’t been practicing much. –Erik Davis’ 1990 Rolling Stone review of the iconic 1990 Jane’s Addiction release, Ritual de lo Habitual

Artist imitating idol: Charles Pravata (center) at Perry Farrell

Life imitating art: Charles Pravata (center) costumed as Perry Farrell

2. The Police- Regatta De Blanc Every album they recorded was great, as evidenced by the present day Karma of the great filly Zenyatta.

3. The Clash – Story of The Clash Volume 1 One of the most dynamic bands of all time, and this compilation is evidence of that.

4. The Ramones- Ramones ManiaAnother compilation; call me a cheater. The guitar player steals the lead singer’s girlfriend, marries her, and the band stays together. That’s true punk…. and Joey Ramone is the epitome of style.

5. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin Even though they robbed most of the songs on this album and took credit for writing them (I can replace this album with any other Zeppelin album).

6. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon Many adventures to the Hayden Planetarium for this album’s laser show between the ages of 11 and 21. Was fortunate enough to see Roger Waters perform the entire album live a few years ago. Epic.

7. The Smiths – The Best of the Smiths 1 & 2 Listened to these albums, and The Queen is Dead on my drives down to Del Mar last summer; hurled me into a depression that I just recently started to come out of. It’s all about impact, good or bad.

8. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You ExperiencedInspired a lot of people to take acid (so did #6 on my list).

9. Metallica – Master of Puppets This used to be a great band.

10. Tool- Undertow One of the few honest bands left in modern music.

Charles Pravata at the Kentucky Derby

Charles Pravata at the Kentucky Derby

Continuing my collection of Top Ten lists from my favorite photographers, writers, musicians, and athletes in the world of rock and racehorses. Also check out the Top Ten lists of jockey Joe Talamo, Barbara Livingston, Bill Finley, Bud Morton, Jonathan Andrew, Kevin Martin, Holly Van Voast, and Jon Forbes.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2009 11:31 pm

    Ms. Andrew wrote:

    I had sent out several emails to people who shot equine sports asking for help
    selecting a camera and a lens. Of the dozens of emails I sent, only a handful wrote
    back: Charles was one of them (Bud Morton was another). He was not the typical
    condescending, mystical, tight-lipped shooter- he was happy to share details
    about lenses and cameras and answer any questions I had.

    ___________________________

    Sir Charles. Ya done good. 🙂

    Pink Floyd at the Hayden Planetarium. LOL.
    Oh to be a kid again.

  2. April 18, 2009 11:48 pm

    …and I never looked back!

    I thought you’d dig this one, Norm :^)

  3. April 19, 2009 1:01 pm

    Charles, I knew you totally rocked, but I never realized how much!

    • April 19, 2009 1:19 pm

      I was pretty impressed when I looked through his photo gallery. His work is spectacular enough for me to overlook his love of Metallica ;^)

  4. April 19, 2009 8:46 pm

    I find it kind of strange that after listening to Mr. Pravata’s advice,
    Ms. Andrew opted for a Nikon. LOL !

    Some explanation is required there as it looks like Mr. Pravata
    is clearly a Canon dude. 😉

    And boy that shot off top of the gate from the turf chute at Del Mar is surreal.
    How much did he have to pay the gate crew to be allowed to get up there
    and set up the remote?

  5. April 19, 2009 11:27 pm

    Good observation! I had already made my brand choice, based on endless internet research and the desire to emulate Mr. Bud Morton *g*

    Yeah, that gate shot is intense, isn’t it? Maybe he snuck up there at night when nobody was looking…

  6. April 20, 2009 5:09 pm

    Great photos Chuck………..MS Vegas

  7. April 20, 2009 7:53 pm

    Yeppers.
    This “Chuck” is apparently is a master with a variety of lenses.

    I’m also enamored of his Colonel John in the dusk at Inglewood.
    If he can do such a stellar job under those conditions, why can’t others?
    No trickery involved there it seems.

    As for the self-titled Led Zeppelin I album, how can they steal that material
    if it really wasn’t invented back in 1969? hmm? 😛

  8. April 21, 2009 2:32 pm

    Wow! I have to say, without meaning to sound sycophantic, those Pravata images are absolutely stunning.

    I love the deep colours and use of focus to highlight the subject.

    As a British horse racing fan who writes regularly on the subject across the pond, I also enjoy traveling Stateside for the Breeders’ Cup. And so it was that I was lucky enough to be in Santa Anita late last October. Although now a two day meet (back to one again this season?), and despite the overwhelming (and hugely lucrative!) performance on the Euro horses, it is right to say that the fillies / mares stole the show.

    As well as the brilliantly photographed Zenyatta, we were also able to marvel at the phenomenal performance of Goldikova. If only one day we could witness a race between these two and perhaps a lady better than both in Zarkava (brilliant winner over the boys in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe), we would see surely the greatest ladies’ race ever! Alas, it won’t happen.

    Greetings from across the pond!

    Matt

    http://www.geegeez.co.uk/category/horse-racing-blog/

    p.s. I love the fact that so much of the top 10 albums is British music. Better yet, the inclusion of The Smiths is an absolute masterstroke! :o)

  9. April 21, 2009 4:26 pm

    SKA wrote: “who IS this punk?”
    ___________________________________

    When I upgrade my gear, I’m going to ask “the punk” for advice. 😀

  10. Charles Pravata permalink
    April 22, 2009 12:00 am

    Thank you all for the kind words, and thank you especially Sarah. This is the nicest thing anyone’s ever written about me. Finally I am getting some respect!! 🙂

    Like you, I also sent an email to a racing photographer. Her name was Barbara Livingston. I asked her about cameras and lenses and such, and she was nice enough to get back to me. I met her for the first time at the Rags to Riches/Curlin Belmont and had the opportunity to thank her. Her responding to me meant alot, not only because I was so green and needed the information she provided, but, because she kind of layed out a welcome mat into the world of horse racing photography for me. (I wish she would have told me about all the bad stuff!:)) So, I was just paying it forward when I responded to your email.

    Two sayings I hold true and try my best to live by:

    1. You get what you put out.
    2. You only keep what you have, by giving it away.

    Mike Marten, Alex Evers, Shigekki Kikkowa, Tom Baker, Duane Lue, Bill Mochon, Patty Yount, Benoit and Associates, Sarah K. Andrew, Bud Morton, and others.

    These are all people who have helped me learn how to take photographs of horses. And, there are countless other photographers whose work motivated me to do so.

    The two shots up here of gate remotes at Del Mar, I saw Alex Evers take prior to myself taking them. I liked the shots so much, that I did some for myself. So, alot of the stuff I shoot, I am just emulating what others have done before me. I hope they dont think that I am being a snake. I think it more as a compliment, and I hope they do as well. I would never claim to have invented any of the shots I take, or the techniques used to capture them.

    Anyway, thaks again for posting this and thanks to all who read/commented etc.

    Janes Addiction and NIN on tour this summer. Go see them.

    Thank God for Horses,
    Charles Pravata

  11. April 24, 2009 11:02 am

    Mr. Pravata (Chuck) wrote:

    The two shots up here of gate remotes at Del Mar, I saw Alex Evers
    take prior to myself taking them. I liked the shots so much,
    that I did some for myself. So, alot of the stuff I shoot,
    I am just emulating what others have done before me.
    I hope they dont think that I am being a snake.

    __________________

    Nice work Chuck !

    Snake? Creep? Moron?
    Whenever they use those terms you know they’re conveying respect
    and perhaps a bit of envy too.

    You’re doing very well young man. 🙂

  12. Red Man permalink
    November 11, 2009 1:29 am

    Shadows of the morning light
    the shadows of the evening sun
    till the shadows and the light were one…

    pf’s words, cp’s photos….nuff said

  13. Red Man permalink
    November 11, 2009 1:30 am

    Shadows of the morning light
    the shadows of the evening sun
    till the shadows and the light were one…

Trackbacks

  1. Rogue Critic Unbridled: Tris McCall’s Top Twenty Five Albums of All Time « Rock and Racehorses: The Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: