Not long after he moved to St. Jacobs, leaving behind the noise and smog of Toronto, Serge Holoduke was driving down Hawkesville Road when he came across six or eight draft horses in a field. The sun was low in the sky, bathing them in a golden light and casting long shadows on the ground. Looking at the scene with a photographer’s eye, Holoduke reached for his camera.
“Something told me these were things that should be photographed and captured,” he said.
That started what has become a three-year fascination with horses and photographing them.
Photography has been part of Holoduke’s life in one way or another since he was a boy growing up in Montreal. His father had a portrait studio on Ste-Catherine Street and Holoduke watched him at work in the studio and darkroom. In high school, he and a friend would listen to calls on a police radio and take photos of accidents and fires, which they sold to the Montréal-Matin newspaper.
After a stint in the air force, where he was the official base photographer, Holoduke moved to Toronto in 1965. He started as a fashion and advertising photographer, then veered into lighting design and architectural photography.
In 2003, Holoduke shut up shop and these days he’s mostly retired. He works in Guelph three mornings a week designing a lighting installation for Toyota dealerships; the other four days a week are devoted to his equine photography.
Holoduke’s connection with horses goes back almost as far as the photography. Many years ago he worked at the Blue Bonnets raceway in Montreal as an exercise boy and hot walker, cooling down horses after their races. He also did some riding with an uncle who was a horse trainer.
The walls of his apartment are lined with Holoduke’s photographs, paintings, and digital art: nature, still lifes, fantasy, and, of course, horses. Horses frolicking, horses nuzzling each other, horses twisting their faces into comical expressions. He has photographed Belgians, Friesians, Morgans, Appaloosas, Tennessee walking horses, draft horses, quarter horses, gypsy cobs and more.
Holoduke will tell you that he doesn’t have a favourite horse to photograph; rather, each horse becomes his favourite as he trains his lens on it. He’s drawn to their grace and power, but he also tries to capture their personalities.
“I’m captivated by their eyes,” he said. “There’s been many occasions where I’ve gone out to photograph and I’ve been standing at a fence or gone in a pasture and I’ve been taking photographs of the eyes – that was my intent, but you end up staring at each other and it’s almost hypnotic, you forget what you’re there for.”
Horses are the main focus of his creativity these days, stealing time away from his other passions. Holoduke brought all of his painting supplies with him from Toronto but hasn’t painted anything since he moved. The reflecting telescope he bought for astrophotography has only left his living room a few times – partly because it weighs 100 pounds or more. At the other end of the spectrum, he also does microscope photography, producing abstract images from slides, and there’s also a novel that has been in the works for many years.
But Holoduke hasn’t yet tired of horses. He’s planning a trip out west to photograph the wild horses of North Dakota and the western foothills of Alberta, and next year he’s hoping to self-publish a compilation of his work titled “For the Love of Horses.” He’s also found himself wondering how much it would cost to buy and board a horse of his own.
The business side of his equine photography is starting to pick up. Holoduke sells images through his online gallery and does commission work for horse owners and riders. He also maintains a separate website of snapshots from events he’s photographed that people can download for free.
In the near future, some of Holoduke’s work will be on display at the new township administration office on Church Street. The Stone Crock restaurant in St. Jacobs carries some of his prints on canvas, which are digital photos he’s manipulated to look like oil paintings.
Even if it didn’t earn him a cent, Holoduke would be satisfied with his work. Leaning on a fence watching a handful of horses jostle and frolic, he has the look of a deeply contented man.
“Best thing I ever did was move out here.”