by Maria Luci
Race day began at 5am, as Jason Myers collected his credentials ahead of the crowd’s arrival. Having forgotten to given the apartment number he was staying at, his information and parking passes were MIA, which meant waking at the crack of dawn to gain entry to the day’s event. But the ungodly wake up call was all worth it for Jason, who, tired or not, got so much out of his day photographing the Iroquois Steeplechase.
For years Jason had been hearing about this famous horse race from friends, artists and writers, all of whom love attending. Held on the second Saturday each May in Nashville, the Iroquois Steeplechase typically attracts more that 25,000 spectators and claims to be “the perfect combination of Southern gentility and sport with history and traditions.” So this year, Jason attended the 72nd Running of the Iroquois Steeplechase, camera in hand, to see what all the fuss was about.
Jason first presented the idea of a steeplechase series to the editors at Garden & Gun, who were initially interested in possibly using the images in a web gallery. But ultimately, they told Jason that it didn’t fit into their editorial calendar. Undeterred, Jason reached out to The Bradford Group, the organizers of the event, and asked if he could be a part of the day. Jason says they were “more than helpful,” and graciously provided him with access to the event.
Initially, Jason had planned on only shooting simple lit portraits of the jockeys after their races. However, after accomplishing this, he moved on to photographing the spectators and ambiance surrounding the race. Winding through the crowds and approaching random subjects was—as it always is—a bit of a crapshoot. Jason explains,
I had to adapt and approach people who had no idea who I was while also dodging inclement weather, drunk fans, and more. There were thousands of tailgating kids, not caring for a moment about much other than being completely preppy and frisky. It was a full on Southern hot mess. But the more respectable attendees, aka the adults, were more interested in the actual races.
As for the jockeys, several said no to being photographed because they were upset they’d lost—but others said yes even though they weren’t happy.
The stand out shot of the day for Jason was of a jockey who, for whatever reason, could not keep his eyes open. “This was just a funny and real expression that I couldn’t have planned.”
He adds that, “happy and sad emotions are represented in this series,” and says that he’s pleased with how it turned out. He also learned something from the project: “be sure you know the entire address of where you’re staying so you don’t have to arrive at 5am to collect your credentials.”
View more of Jason’s work at jasonmyersphoto.com.