An Interview With: Marie-Louise Garratt


Firstly, who are you and where did you study?

My name is Marie-Louise Garratt and I studied Photography at Plymouth University.

What is the artist statement for the body of work 'Hippophagy'?

This work aims to address the question of the continued survival of ponies on the rugged landscape of Dartmoor.  The first written record of ponies on Dartmoor occurs in 1012, with a reference to "wild horses". During the mid-1800s Dartmoor was the main source of granite in Britain, and ponies were used during this time as a means of transporting goods.  Come the twenty-first century, the pony continues to be used, mainly for recreational pursuits, for locals and visitors. 

Each year the ponies, owned by local farmers on Dartmoor, are rounded up and sorted for several purposes, including; riding, farming, transport and more recently, they have entered the human food chain.  Dartmoor Conservation Meat, an organisation whose aims ultimately are to conserve the ponies, is creating a market for Dartmoor pony meat around Devon. By eliminating a specific age group it promises to maintain a stable population.  This issue raises ethical dilemmas and forces us to question whether we have the right to kill and eat healthy animals, especially those that thrive within a semi-wild landscape? 

Because of their hardiness, the ponies are able to continue to survive on the moor throughout the whole year, making them fundamental to the conservation of the landscape.  By trampling down old bracken and keeping the landscape trimmed, declining species, such as the fritillary butterfly, are able to thrive.  By photographing the ponies in their adopted habitat I aim to display their deep affinity with the land.  The pony in this image, is confronting the viewer, and (we can imagine), imploring them to consider the ethics of "conservation meat" and whether this course of action really has a role in twenty-first century Britain.

How was the experience of photographing these horses?

Honestly, it was terrifying! I'm such an animal lover so I've never found myself to be frightened of animals. But despite knowing how calm and tame these ponies were, there was something about them that I just couldn't bring myself to get closer, perhaps because there was nothing standing in the way between us, it was just the ponies, myself and the open land, anything could have happened! 

The photographs depict the rugged landscape that these horses inhabit. Furthermore, the act of photographing these horses gives them a value beyond a food product. Do you find the work to be successful in regards to creating awareness and discussion about the ethics of 'conservation meat' ?

At the time when I was making this work at University, a lot of the students and teachers didn't know that there actually was a market for the meat, so it has created awareness in some sense, and I'd like to think that if they had the chance to buy the meat, that they wouldn't due to viewing my work. But if not, it's definitely created debate amongst people and made their decision on whether they think it is right or wrong.  

How did you approach the project in terms of research?

My inspiration was taken from wanting to create work around animal welfare and conservation and the nearest most interesting subject to me was the ponies. I kept finding newspaper articles about the meat being sold and thought it would be amazing if I could portray a the same story through photography. 

The photographs are very picturesque. The subject matter could have lead you to some more difficult and graphic photographs, Do you feel the avoidance of these harsh photographs creates a more accessible way of raising the issues outlined by your work?

I did actually experiment with the gruesome side of the pictures but it wasn't what I wanted to portray at all. No body likes to see gruesome images of animals, although it creates a connection, it's the wrong kind. I find that people tend to be more angry than the fact you're actually showing them what happens rather than the actual fact of what is happening. So I figured, if I could create some beautiful images of these ponies people will be able to find a purer connection and that way are more willing to look into the work and the whole idea around it.

What are your hopes for the future, are there any projects in the pipeline?

There's a few projects I'm aiming to do in Europe in the next year but I don't want to reveal anything until I actually start it! But it follows the same genre, Conservation Photojournalism. 

What would be your best advice to our readers that will be graduating shortly?

It's so important to stay true to what you believe in, no matter how impossible it seems or how many obstacles are in your way, if that's your passion, stick with it till the end!