Julie Sleaford uses analogue processes in the darkroom and through interventions with the print, to explore the complexity of our relationship with another species, the horse.

Her timeless, darkly poetic work combines images of horses, the landscape, still life and performative photographs of herself. She creates an unsettling, many layered narrative contemplating the human fears and desires that underpin our relationship with horses. Her choice of equipment and the conditions in which she shoots are integral to her purpose; to surrender control, restrain the pull for visual perfection and stay present to chance encounters. The darkness that envelops her images hints at what is hidden from our understanding of animals and the natural world.

As a visual artist she is interested in perception, conjuring images that subtly disturb our assumptions about the animals that live alongside us and our relationship with them.

Her self-published book The Problem Horse & Other Stories has been shown at many photo festivals and has been acquired by The Victoria & Albert Museum, London and Bodleian, Oxford for their special library collections.

Her practice is constantly evolving and at present she is working with drawing and moving image.


My work is a meditation on our relationship to horses and the natural world. I question the assumptions and motives that drive it, searching for a deeper connection. Horses allow me to travel through existential and political worlds and open up doorways to new ones. They are harnessed to capitalism, a measure of power and the powerless, are at the mercy of our yearning for romantic love and like the female body they have been aestheticised by countless images so we are blind to who they really are. Their rich history is a reflection of ours and their future is fragile.

Throughout history we have been raised up upon their backs but they have paid a heavy price for this contract. As a large, expensive animal they often exist as a unit of production even for those who utter words of love. We invest in them and to satisfy our desires theirs is a precarious existence.

The human relationship with animals is one of conflict as it is with nature in general. In presumed superiority we take control, we impose order.  We praise an animal with spirit and then fearing it, break it. We presume our intelligence is greater than theirs according to our own classifications. We protect them  and ourselves from the very nature they are part of and buff them to a gloss so that they reflect back our humanity.

Horses have shared a long history with humans and are embedded in the memory and mythology of the landscape. Where most of humanity has become disconnected from nature, the horse even when domesticated, remains deeply attuned to it. Released from human ambition, neither shrouded in rugs or trimmed and polished into an idealised version of themselves, horses will cover themselves in earth, let the wind tuft and tie their manes into knots, lift their backs to the sky and wear the seasons on their coats, easing back into the rhythm of the landscape.

Trying to understand another species requires a surrendering of the self to a place of stillness. To leave aside fear and desire can lead us into a new landscape of language. Through horses, I explore a different way of being in the world.

'One day, a horse spoke to me.'

Using Format