For over 50 years, photographer Allan de la Plante (www.allandelaplante.com) has taken countless shots of subjects who rarely stand still. But, his highly respected work has always managed to make those who view it stop and take notice.
At the age of 17, de la Plante, who was born in Toronto, but grew up in North Bay, Ontario, found his calling in life, one that quickly became his passion and livelihood.
“I’ve been very lucky, as it presented a lot of opportunities to record, as any photographer is wont to do, all that goes on in the world around me,” said de la Plante, who now calls Vancouver home. “I spent many years shooting auto racing, including a big six years with Formula One driver (Canadian sporting) legend Gilles Villeneuve. I also got to know and photograph Pope John Paul II. I brought out several books on them and several other subjects that are dear to me.”
His association with thoroughbred racing took a while to get out of the gate, but de la Plante’s introduction to the sport was, no pun intended, legendary.
“The first brush with thoroughbreds was in 1973,” he recalled. “I was gaining a reputation in the sports world and was asked by the Toronto Star to do a portrait of a jockey at Woodbine Racetrack. The jockey was Sandy Hawley and the portrait made the cover of Weekend Magazine. I also did a portrait of a second jockey at that time. I didn’t know who he was then, but I soon found out. He was covered with mud and I liked that. It was Willie Shoemaker.
“There was a long spell away from thoroughbreds, but not horses. I did portraits of (champion thoroughbred trainer) Jim Day in Grand Prix jumping and Christilot Boylen in dressage. It wasn’t until 2013 that I got to shoot another thoroughbred. I had an assignment to shoot Indy cars when I discovered that my timing was off. I needed to get it back, so I wandered down to Hastings Racecourse and talked my way onto the property. I promptly fell in love with this wonderful sport.”
His photos, some of which have appeared in Canadian Thoroughbred, cover a wide range of subject matter. Each shot is handled with a meticulous eye. “Thoroughbreds live in a family of wonderful characters who never cease to provide entertainment and spectacle, which is what I strive to record,” said de la Plante. “Like any sport, thoroughbred racing has its’ highs and it’s lows — the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Each has an image and often it’s an emotional one. I love being around these wonderful animals and the people that love them.”
Getting the ideal thoroughbred picture isn’t always an easy endeavor for the man who has had 14 books published, with three more to come, including, Horses, through my lens.
“They never stand still!” de la Plante said with a laugh. “Shooting anything that moves at speed is all about knowing the light and knowing what you must do to get a good shot under the conditions you are presented with. I love to shoot in the rain. I think one of the most important things to pay attention to is respecting the animals. I never turn my back on them. I learned this in motor racing, but I also know that they can change direction at an incredible rate. I just try to minimize my exposure to this situation. Do I have fear in shooting thoroughbreds? If I did I wouldn’t be doing it. I love the excitement, but I hold great respect for what can happen if I am not paying attention at all times.”
It’s why everything continues to click for one of Canada’s photography greats.