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Whoa! Horses get hair extensions

An Australian photographer’s series of images of horses with fancy hairdos and extensions have become an Internet sensation.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

The commercial photographer and a pal were just horsing around one day, playing one of those “What if?” games when the idea hit them: “Hey, wouldn’t it be great, wouldn’t it be really funny to do some shots of horses with big hairstyles, sort of ‘pony pin-up?’ ”

Thus, photographer Julian Wolkenstein told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Monday, was born the idea that gave birth to a series of images that have become something of an Internet sensation. The images show three horses — one chestnut, one white and one jet black — vamping for Wolkenstein’s camera and showing off their gorgeous ’dos.

The pictures were taken three years ago in England, but since Wolkenstein did them strictly for fun, it took time for them to hit the Web and longer still for people to discover them. The 36-year-old photographer divides his time between London and Australia and spoke to Vieira from Sydney.

An award-winning commercial photographer, Wolkenstein earns his living doing shoots for such prominent clients as Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Volkswagen, Sony, Nokia, Vodafone, British Airways, Citibank, Renault and BBC. But the horse shoot was something he did just to remind himself of the unbridled joy he takes in photography.

What he didn’t figure on was how much work would be involved in pulling it off. What started as a lark turned into a process that consumed six weeks in the dead of an English winter.

The mane event

“Not so many people have taken photos of horses with big hair, so we really had no idea what we were going to get into,” Wolkenstein told Vieira. “On most shoots, you would go out and you would be able to do a couple of shots a day. Hair and makeup on a person might take two or three hours, but with horses, we just assumed, well, maybe a little bit more. Obviously, we were completely wrong.”

One reason for that is horses have bigger heads than people and all that mane to deal with. It turned out that the photographer’s makeup and hair expert, Berlin-based Acacio da Silva, needed more than four hours to do the intricate weaves necessary to get the effect they were looking for. And then, a horse might toss its head playfully, undoing what had taken so many hours to arrange.

“We did a couple of test days that we were hoping would actually be final shots. One of them was a complete disaster and another was a partial disaster. We realized we needed a full day to do it, because each horse would take about four hours of hairstyling,” Wolkenstein explained.

By then, they were too far along to rein in their enthusiasm for the project. After the test horses turned out to be spooked by the strobe lights used in the shoot, they had to find horses that had worked in front of cameras before and wouldn’t be bothered by the lights. Then they had to get the horses to stand in a very specific spot so the lighting would be perfect.

“It was very intense for everyone,” Wolkenstein said. “The time of year we shot it was very cold. It was almost the middle of winter. There was ice on the ground.”

Horses loved itHe did confirm that no horses were harmed in the shooting. In fact, the horses rather enjoyed the process, he said.

“The horses loved it, are you kidding?” Wolkenstein told Vieira. “They had a great time. They loved the grooming and being fawned over — the flashlights probably not as much. They had to stand in a very specific spot so that the lighting would be right, so it was a long process getting that right.”

After Wolkenstein posted the shots online, he had a number of requests from commercial clients who wanted to use the images in advertising campaigns, but he turned them down. The whole reason he did it was to remind himself that he became a photographer because he loved creating his own images.

“To not have this on the back of a client where other people are making decisions, where it’s a labor of love and everyone put so much time and effort into it — everyone walks away happy.”  He said. “Everyone worked very hard under pretty trying conditions, but everyone came out of it very happy. I made it as much as possible an enjoyable process for the people who were involved.”

The horses, too.