Capturing the Kentucky Derby in all its equine glory

‘The Kentucky Derby: Derby Fever, Derby Day, and the Run for the Roses’
by Bill Doolittle (Carpe Diem Books and Shircliff Publishing; 175 pgs., $50)

Much has been written about the Kentucky Derby. After all, Louisvillians have come to substitute the word Derby for spring, as if it is a season on the calendar. That gives us months to discuss a horse race that lasts two minutes. So why should we pay attention to yet another book on the subject?

The answer is: for the photography. “The Kentucky Derby: Derby Fever, Derby Day, and the Run for the Roses” by LEO Weekly’s Bill Doolittle is a book full of images by some of the best photographers in the business. Yes, there are many smart words about foals, fashion and food, but this is first and foremost an art book. He planned this book from the beginning to showcase the photography.

“Some people think real books don’t have pictures, but I love to write with illustration,” Doolittle said. “And nothing comes alive with photography like the Kentucky Derby. The Derby’s my subject, and I begin with the idea I’m going to grab the best photographers and their most absorbing images, and blend that with words to tell a great big story. For this book I think we have a little different idea about the photography of the Kentucky Derby — maybe a little more interested in the art of it — than just the journalism.”

The featured photographers are James Archambeault, Michael Brohm, Skip Dickstein, Dan Dry, Andrew Hancock, Barbara Livingston, Gail Kamenish and John Nation.


It’s a visceral experience from the moment you pick up the book. The cover photograph, taken by Dickstein, is of jockey Victor Espinoza riding American Pharoah at the 2015 Kentucky Derby. Because of the slightly embossed cover, the scene has a 3-D effect that pulls you into the action. “It’s a difficult shot, with the sun already down behind the grandstand,” Doolittle said. “But … above, sunshine gleaming off the Twin Spires. Capturing the light, like Vermeer.”
Creativity is in the details; that’s where all artists live. With thoroughbreds, it is in the muscles and coat. With jockeys, it’s the silk designs and colors.

Nation, one of our area’s most respected photographers, was looking for such details at the 2014 Derby when a happy accident occurred. Accompanied by Doolittle, he found where he wanted to stand — above the starting gate at the new terrace — but then he left.

“When we got back to the area, they’d closed the section up tight and we couldn’t get back in,” said Doolittle. “So we circled around to below the terrace and climbed a fence to get back to our spot. He got the shot, with all that random-geometric look to the horses coming away from the starting gate. Like we’d choreographed it in advance with the jockeys.”
The winner? California Chrome, No. 5 at the top of the photograph.

For those of you who want your photography interactive, the book features Digimarc Discover. There are digital watermarks throughout the book that links readers to race videos and archival information via smart phone and tablets.

Doolittle closes his book with “How to Pick the Derby Winner.” My advice is go with his advice because you may lose less and might even win a little. •

About the Author

Capturing the Kentucky Derby in all its equine glory

Jo Anne Triplett is the contributing visual arts editor at LEO Weekly. She’s a past member of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Public Art, was the content advisor on the Glassworks Building video, and has written for Louisville Magazine, Kentucky Homes and Gardens and the national publication Glass Craftsman. Jo Anne came to Louisville from Washington, D.C. where she worked as a researcher and writer for the Smithsonian American Art Museum.



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