Photo Detective: The Work Behind IDing Show Jumping Photos

You can tell by the popularity of vintage photo sites, people love old photos…the picture tells the story, but what you don’t know is the story behind identifying the photo.

When I was selecting photos for The Cleveland Grand Prix book, I only had space for 70 images and I had several hundred to choose from. The photos were in boxes from nearly 50 years of collections. Most were not sorted or identified and in some there were hundreds of old negatives and color slides I went blind sorting with an old view-finder. There were little clues that aided the detective work that went into identifying photos before selection for the book could begin.

Now the “left-overs” are being shared on the Cleveland Grand Prix Facebook page so the work wasn’t for nothing.

Here are my Top Ten tricks for identifying Cleveland Grand Prix photo archives:

1. Horse Show Programs – They often included prior year photos, class entries including horse, rider and owner and sometimes an old order of go tucked between the pages—this narrowed the choices.

2. Press Kit Contents/Marks on Photo – Former press officers ordered photos for media and a few old kits included sets of numbered photos with a photo key.

3. Rider form and style – Riders such as Rodney Jenkins and Barney Ward had a style that distinguishes them when their face is obscured. By contrast, some are VERY similar—Joe Fargis and Conrad Homfeld for example, always caused double checks.

4. Horse form and style – When you deal with black and white photos, plain bays are particularly challenging.

5. Jumps and venue – Background and details are as important as the forefront

6. Tack—boots, bits and braids – Unusual bits, colored boots and other tack have saved me more than once!

7. Newspaper clips – Sometimes it is process of elimination—a photo of a winner in the paper helps determine who is not in the photo.

8. Photographer clues – Every now and then a photographer adds a year to their signature

9. Compare and contrast – Sometime an online search turns up clues like white markings that helped me distinguish Idle Dice from Arbitrage.

10. Share and compare – I have emailed more than one photo to friends to get some help, as well as riders themselves. Katie Monahan identified the bay pictured on the back cover of the book as Tom Simmons. I would NEVER have gotten that!