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Jack Greene -- An Eye For Detail



If there was ever a man who was in the right place at the right time, it’s photographer Jack Greene. His stellar career and aptitude for catching the animation of the Tennessee Walking Horse at that “special moment” is quite rare. Adding to this story is the fact that it happened quite by accident.

Jack Greene was an amateur photographer in 1966, taking photos of his wife on her Tennessee Walking Horse. The saddle club they belonged to at the time asked Jack to be their photographer at the local shows. Being a person with an adventurous spirit, he decided to take them up on the offer. He soon learned that he had good eye/finger coordination as the offers to document other shows came pouring in.

He enlisted Jim Willis, a close friend and engineer at Dresser Industries, to attend a Georgia Saddle Club Horse Show. Armed with three rolls of film and more than a little in trepidation, they forged ahead. Greene remembers, “No one knew us and yet we sold $70 worth of pictures at the Bowden Georgia Saddle Club in 1966.” This catalyst would be only a precursor of things to come.

Willis and Greene bought a bread truck to use as a darkroom for the then black and white photos. Bookings for shows came at an amazing speed and soon the team traded jobs with each other. One would shoot the film and the other would develop the pictures on site.

The team of Willis and Greene rapidly gained popularity and they quickly recognized the need to split the company into two division to cover North and South Alabama. As they entered their third year, Greene and Willis were overwhelmed by the demand for their services. “Too popular,” Willis remarked. The pace was too much for Greene’s partner. Full time jobs and the rigors of the photography had taken their toll. Willis relished the idea of spending his free time fishing; Greene bought him out.

By this time Jack Greene was traveling the Southeastern United States in a Winnebago that served as his darkroom. As fate would have it, Greene was in Cedar Town, Ga., when he met Bruce Spencer, who owned the Voice magazine out of Chattanooga, Tenn. Spencer admired Greene’s work and offered him a job as chief photographer and managing editor after David Howard left to begin a paper of his own called The Walking Horse Report. Greene remained in this position for two years. But life always presented its twists and turns. A new opportunity was knocking.

A new breed was starting; they called it a racking horse. Spencer and Greene decided to shoot this new breed and start their own newspaper. They named it The Racking Review. After running the newspaper for six months, Greene bought out Bruce Spencer’s share and continued to run the paper on his own for five more years. He eventually sold it to Ann Yeiser of Waynesboro, Tenn. To fill the time gap, Greene decided to attend college for a year. But an old colleague, David Howard, a man with a vision towards the future, called Greene and offered him the position of chief photographer at The Walking Horse Report. Greene remained with the Report for three years until he felt burned out from the hectic pace he had been living for many years. Perhaps a hiatus was in order.

Jack Greene applied for and was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant to publish a book. He packed his bags and moved to Madison, Wisc., for the next three years as he pursued his goal. The book was entitled Willie Street, A Neighborhood. The project centered on a neighborhood that was blocked off geographically; it couldn’t grow out and so it grew internally. Interestingly some notables lived in this community; Paul Horning, the Mayor of Madison, a biker club and the Wayward House of Light that housed artists and bums. His three-year project completed, Greene returned to Shelbyville, Tenn., in 1983 and started his current endeavor, Jack Greene Photography. His view and focus remained constant, to set the standard for everyone by recreating his business every winter when life is less hectic.

Setting the standard has always been Jack Greene. He was the first to have a darkroom on the show grounds delighting exhibitors with full size pictures rather than the customary proofs. Although he started with black and white photos, he quickly moved to the more spectacular color photos.

The evolution also included digital printing and retouching off of computers as early as ten years ago. Last year in 2002, Jack Greene Photography went to an all-digital format. Greene explained that last winter his goal was to resolve the problems with digital photography in the rain. Always the perfectionist, Greene explained that the rain stops the light and the image cannot come through to the camera properly. So the new innovation in 2003 would be the addition of a second strobe to allow the light to go further and capture the image correctly. He added that the picture tended to blur at 70 feet. This year the light will go out to perhaps 100 feet. This would allow the photographer to catch the peak action of the subject. A VR vibration resistant lens with a gyro was also added to steady the lens. Greene is the first of the new users for this technology.

As many amateur photographers have experienced, capturing a walking horse in action is a monumental task. Jack Greene offered this bit of advise to those seeking to perfect their skills: one needs to move quickly to change the angle for each horse. Quick hand, eye and thought processes are essential. A change in the angle to 33 degrees is best for a trotty horse while a horse with swing must be caught straight on for the optimum picture. For pacing horses, a 33-degree angle is best with the front leg coming down and in front of the back leg. When asked about the best camera to use, he replied, “a 35 mm camera is just too slow because the shutter moves down to close and therefore allows too much time for the image to move, a professional camera will open and close the shutter in an instant and therefore will stop the motion.”

In 2003, Jack Greene Photography now employs 6 people in two divisions. The traveling team consists of Colin Preiser and Laureen Lewis as sales and assistant respectively. Office manager Paulette Ferguson, graphic artist Matt Morehead, and webmaster Hannah Anderson head the production team. Last but not least Greene has the added talents of a California photographer through the Celebration, Debbie Uecker Keough. Greene added, “Debbie is the best photographer in the show horse business and will provide a new presentation for the walking horse. She presently is tops in her field with the American Saddlebreds.”

Some years ago, a controversy arose when copyrights were attached to pictures taken at shows. Greene proudly admits that he was the one to start this practice and to enlist other publications to honor the copyright rules. He explained that the Federal Copyright Law of 1976 as amended provides that protection as soon as the shutter is clicked. This protects the photographer and the integrity of his original work from being reproduced in a less than optimum manner. The additional benefit of this practice is a guarantee from Jack Greene Photography: If you don’t like the picture when it is delivered, return it. They are the only company offering this guarantee. With a schedule of 38 shows this year, Greene is a busy man.

You may conclude that Greene’s life is only work, but this is a multi-talented and adventurous man. As most in the walking horse business are aware, Greene is a Harley Davidson man. His familiar ponytail do and boots belie his passion for the wide-open road and thrill of the ride. Currently he owns a 1997 Soft tail Custom Springer (“all suped up…a real hog”). The “hog” has 100K miles on the double compression engine that was built in California and is still going strong. Although this is Greene’s 10th or 12th hog, it will certainly not be his last. You cannot help but notice the restored older cars that round out this avocation.

Is it possible for a person to maintain this pace or will Jack Greene’s path again turn? Greene cannot help but remember the Israeli equestrian team he had the pleasure of meeting while in Florida. The team had traveled to the United States to purchase three horses for competition. They engaged Greene in conversation and were impressed with the digital quality and the ability to retouch the pictures. He was invited to accompany them to Germany on a shoot to apply cosmetic touches to …. the riders!

South America calls to him after photographing Paso Finos. Guatemala, Antigua, the list continues. His emerging yearning now shifts to travel photos. Perhaps another five to seven years and then he will pursue his next adventure. One thing’s for sure, he will do what he has always done; pursue his passions, strive for excellence and look to the future.

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