A Brazilian horse lover, raised on his grandfather’s farm, has turned his lifelong love into a treasured profession photographing horses to share their majestic beauty with the world.
Antonio José Oliveira Mendes Neto, 33, known professionally as Tony Mendes, was born in Itanhém in the Brazilian state of Bahia. A trained nurse, he currently lives in Maceió, Alagoas, and discovered his talent for photography shortly after graduation.
“I had two [American] quarter horses, and I bought a camera to learn how to photograph them. Already owning horses and knowing their characteristics helped me a lot to achieve a quick evolution in horse photography,” Tony told The Epoch Times. “What was just a hobby became my profession. It’s been almost 10 years.”
Less than a year after turning his camera toward his favorite subject, Tony was receiving commissions. He continued working for his grandfather, who gave him time off to take photos, until 2016 when he gave up working on the farm for good to invest in his new profession.
“Over all these years photographing horses, I’ve learned that when you have respect, affection, and patience, you can create a trusting connection. They are very intelligent and sensitive beings who notice even our mood swings,” Tony said.
“My goal is to show people with an artistic eye how much horses are loved and respected, trying to break the prejudice that still exists for equestrian sports by some people.”
Tony’s main challenge in working with these majestic beasts is getting them to do what he wants, since “they don’t understand what we ask.”
Over the years, he has developed attention-grabbing techniques such as using a sound box to replicate a horse “whinny,” shining the reflected light of a mirror, and blowing a horn.
“Each situation is different and with experience I learned to overcome these difficulties,” said Tony, who leads annual photography workshops to share his knowledge and experience with other horse photography enthusiasts.
With increasing demand from global clients, Tony uses current, high-end equipment for his photos including mirrorless cameras and telephoto lenses for a longer range and good perspective. All his photos go through post-processing to correct light, color, and framing and to remove blemishes and “anything unwanted,” like flies or visible specs of dust.
One of Tony’s favorite photos to date is a shot titled, “Horse Soul.”
He said, “I was teaching lighting techniques to my workshop students and managed to capture this photo. It was kept for almost six months until I decided to enroll it in a contest. It was awarded in three different categories.”
Another of Tony’s favorites is “Rolex,” a photo taken by chance.
“I photographed the horse when he was climbing a hill towards me; it was a very strong horse, and the photo was impressive. It will hardly be repeated. This photo also received three awards,” said Tony.
Memorable moments for Tony include the day he was commissioned to take a “very specific photo” of a stallion for a magazine cover.
“I was testing a technique that I hadn’t used yet,” Tony said. “I didn’t know if it would work, but when I sent the photos, [the editor] approved the same day. It was a moment of great happiness.”
On another occasion, Tony was photographing a client’s animals when a mare and her foal stopped right in front of him. “[They] stared at me, as if they were waiting for me to photograph them. This ‘Mare and Foal’ photo was a finalist in a wildlife competition.”
Tony, who learned to ride a horse and drive cattle on his grandfather’s farm, claims his mother used to say that he knew the names of all the horse breeds by the age of five. Over the years, this love and depth of knowledge has only grown.
Today, Tony travels Brazil taking photos of his specialty breed, the American quarter horse, as well as thoroughbreds, mangalargas, paint horses, and criollos; getting to know incredible places, people, and cultures along the way.
In 2018, Tony began submitting his work to photography contests. “I always applied but never had a photo selected. It was like that for almost two years,” he said, adding that he then started studying new photo techniques and reaped results.
“I started to take a whole studio structure with me in my work, and test different lighting techniques, angles, and composition,” he said. “I started to do something different from the conventional. At the end of 2019, I won my first photography award. Since then, I’ve had 27 photos awarded in different countries.”
Dearest to Tony’s heart are his first-ever prize win, which made the cover of Chilenera Magazine in Chile, and an invitation to exhibit his work in Spain in 2022, a “very gratifying” experience. Tony shares his work on Instagram, sells prints through his website, and is shooting in North America and Europe for the production of a brand-new photography book.
For Tony, one of the biggest accolades of all is knowing that his work touches hearts.
“People’s reaction is incredible,” he said. “I receive many messages of congratulation and encouragement. Seeing that there are people who really like me, who are happy when I reply to their message, this is very rewarding.”
Check out more of Tony’s work:
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