On behalf of Equestrian Sports NZ, friend, colleague and CatWalk ambassador Charlotte Gendall reflects on the life and times of Barbara Thomson…
If one picture speaks a thousand words, then Barbara Thomson’s thousands of photographs will tell the history of equestrian sports in New Zealand over the past 45 years.
This week’s tragic loss has profoundly shocked and saddened us all and while it’s an honour to be asked by the national federation to reflect on Barbara’s enormous contribution to our sport, other friends in the media, notably NZ Horse & Pony and Show Circuit magazines, have already provided detailed biographies as part of their own tributes.
Therefore, and on behalf of Equestrian Sports New Zealand, let’s instead paint a canvas of memories, particularly from some of the many riders Barbara captured in their moments of glory, and the tough times too.
As a journalist, I was fortunate to work alongside Barbara on many occasions and at all manner of venues from Paekakariki, to Taupo, to Tauherenikau, to McLeans Island, to Puhinui, to Pukekohe and beyond. We were both at multiple Olympic Games and of course those dramatic World Eventing Championships at Gawler in 1986.
Barbara was the ultimate professional and you could enjoy every minute of reporting and conversation while standing alongside her. Whatever the weather, the deadlines or the conditions of the “media centre” (most often there wasn’t one), she was unflappable and cool under pressure. Editing The Bulletin when Barbara was involved was a breeze. Completely reliable, never late with her proofs or final copy and as steady as a rock, you only have to look at her photos to see that she knew her subjects and that they knew and trusted her.
Whether she and her trusty assistants, notably Tom, Michelle, Jan and Alison, were marshalling Horse of the Year titleholders, Olympic teams or Pony Clubbers for official photos, nothing much fazed Barbara.
But it wasn’t all big time. A quick look at the Thomson Photography website shows that in recent years, Barbara has continued to indefatigably snap away at events as diverse as Endurance, Timberlands, HoY, Eventing (dozens of them!), Showjumping shows, Dressage tournaments, race meetings at Taupo, polo, pony club and of course the hunting which she so much loved.
It’s been interesting to view the development of equestrian photography and changes to media in recent years, particularly since the explosion of digital camera technology. Back in the day, when it was pretty much just Barbara and her rolls of film on a misty, cold Taupo morning, there weren’t many other contenders lining up for the privilege of taking pictures at the final trot up.
But Barbara was always there, and as times changed with the new technology, she adapted along with it and moved into the new age with the Canons which continued her legacy of superb shot making.
Measured in her movements, and despite lugging those increasingly large cameras and the bags of gear which are a photographer’s lot, she was always perfectly – and practically – turned out for whatever occasion.
Reflecting her upbringing and her good manners, Barbara was polite but firm when faced with a media scrum. She stood her ground to get a good shot and she didn’t give up.
She provided the official NZHS – NZEF – ESNZ photographs for decades. If you needed a photo for a historical piece, a quick email to Barbara, a search through her extensive archives and the jpeg was in your inbox.
As a photographer, aesthetics and dramatic impact were important to Barbara but she was never more delighted than when she had a balanced action shot which would please riders, owners and parents.
There’s so much more which could be said, including her loyal support of established riders such as Blyth Tait, Heelan Tompkins and Catriona Williams, as well as those on their way up, but let’s instead turn to some of those riders, whom she photographed from their earliest days, to thank Barbara.
“Barbara has been an amazing supporter of NZ equestrian sports. From local events to Olympics and World Games she went about her job with absolute professionalism. You will be greatly missed. Sincerest condolences to Tom and family.” – Sir Mark Todd
When I look at the thousands of comments storming over social media I think ‘wow you touched so many hearts Barbara,’ but what’s really lovely is she, unlike most, would know the people individually making the comments. She genuinely listened when you spoke and she cared about what you said, she actually knew and cared about all these people that she photographed every week, and that makes her a very special person. X – Heelan Tompkins
The NZ Equestrian community has lost an icon who has left a photographic legacy spanning many decades. A wonderful warm, kind and gracious lady who will be very missed. Thinking of you Barbara and your family at this sad time. – John Cottle
Barbara Thomson has been synonymous with equestrian photography for as long as I can remember. She was the best person to capture the moment and knew all the tricks for a beautiful shot. Barbara was always at all the big shows I attended and the brown envelope was always so exciting to receive in the mail. Rest In Peace Barbara. You will never be forgotten. – Kallista Field
“Barbara provided us with the histories of our horses and ponies. She filled our photo albums and the walls of our bedrooms and halls. We had Barbara’s pictures long before we had photobooks, or Facebook. She gave us our memories.” – Catriona Williams
In her own words, on her website, Barbara tells us: “‘I can’t imagine life without the challenge of getting that extra-special shot in the arena, and the thrill of owning good competition horses.”
Tom, Michelle and Mark, we can’t imagine life on the circuit without Barbara. She’s going to be so very much missed.
#barbarathomson — Charlotte Gendall
Barbara will be farewelled at St Andrews Anglican Church, 91 Titiraupenga St, Taupo at 11.30 on Monday the 27th February. Donations to The Heart Foundation or RSPCA in lieu flowers.
Messages to email@example.com or PO Box 89, Taupo