By Shya Beth
Matthew Donohue has traveled across the world with a camera in hand. From his teenage years of exploring the world from behind the lens while growing up in the States to packing and moving a world away to South Korea, and later working throughout the Middle East as a photojournalist, Matthew’s current occupation as an equine photographer has brought him full circle.
While both horses and photography were a part of his life early on, horses stayed behind while photography became his full focus. Matthew grew up in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, known to those in the horse world as horse country. “We called it ‘Barbaro-Land,’” Matthew said, in reference to the famed racehorse whose home stable is located nearby.
“When I was a youth, my friends and I would ride our bicycles to the old farm in the beginning of the neighborhood where we would spend time and feed the horses, and this memory has always stuck with me,” Matthew explained. “When I was a bit older, I would shadow my cousin, an equine veterinarian, and watch as he did his checkups and other veterinarian duties.”
While Matthew’s interest in horses were piqued, it wouldn’t be till much later in life that he would devote his time and artistic skill to the horse.
A World Away
Photography found Matthew, and the first time he had a camera in his hand was thanks to his high school art professor, Terry Newitt. “I wasn’t too happy at the time, and he gave me a tool to express myself—to be a storyteller, a documentarian, and a student of life and humanity,” Matthew said. “Once I left the country for South Korea, the camera had become a way I could explore different stories by combining my photography with the written word.”
Matthew graduated from the prestigious Pratt Institute in 2004 with a B.F.A. in Communication Arts. After a few years of working within advertising and design, a phone call with a college friend ended up changing his life forever. “I was 27 years old, lacked motivation and needed a change,” he explained. “After a long and expensive phone call to my friend from college in Seoul, South Korea, I dropped everything and moved to the opposite side of the world.”
Within three weeks, Matthew was living just south of Seoul, teaching English. It was a spur of the moment decision, and one that Matthew looks back on fondly. “It was one of the greatest choices I ever made in my life!” he exclaimed. “It was inspiring to be so far from home in a beautiful culture.”
Of course, Matthew brought his camera along with him, and soon enough found work with local, expat-focused magazines as a photographer. After living in South Korea for two years, Matthew moved again, this time to Kuwait in the Middle East. Writing a monthly column for their largest national magazine and teaching photography, it was during this time that Matthew felt he finally had found his calling in more serious photography and journalism. “I lost my uncle in the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983, and I always wanted to see that part of the world. All I did in this time was read, write and photograph. It was the words of Hunter S. Thompson and Anthony Bourdain that spoke to me on this ‘Gonzo’ part of my life as I traveled to Jordan, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, East Africa and Lebanon.”
The Equine Focal Point
After moving back to the United States and living in Brooklyn, New York, Matthew was all set for a trip in 2012 to Syria to cover the war when he found out that he would be a father. No stranger to life-altering changes, Matthew swiftly canceled his trip, packed his bags and moved to Long Island to be a dad.
It was after his move to Long Island that horses found their way back into his life. “I would drive around exploring my new home, seeing farm after farm, and I started introducing myself at different stables,” he said. “I felt this was now the right moment to pursue a passion that stayed latent since I was a child. What I didn’t realize at the time was that not only would I find joy again through the horse, my muse, but I was going to make lifelong friendships on land and through the sea—another interest of mine. Meeting people along the way like Juan and Jorge Vasquez, who have become family, and people like Susan Fuller-Roetman—the names go on—have been instrumental in my career and life with horses, then and now.”
Matthew’s photographic skills lend well to the horse world. From photographing polo matches, dressage, barrel racing and horse racing events, Matthew has been blessed to work with many different people from different backgrounds, and he enjoys every moment of it. While photographing at the National Horse Show in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2022, Matthew found the opportunity to photograph some of the greats of the horse racing world—Tapit, Birdstone, Justify, American Pharoah and Maximum Security, to name a few.
Capturing monochrome or multicolored images featuring powerful moments in equestrian sports to soft, gentle moments between a girl and her horse, each captured image tells a story. Full of action and adventure, show jumping has become a large part of his professional work, and for the last three years, Matthew has been a part of the Hampton Classic Photography Committee. One of the most prestigious show jumping events in the United States, the Hampton Classic takes place every year in The Hamptons, New York, close to where Matthew resides.
Matthew is grateful for the life experiences he’s had that have led him to this moment. “When I look back on my life, the camera has given me an immense amount of opportunities to see the world and life at a different angle,” he said. “In a way, I’m writing a visual journal of my life that I will be able to leave behind for my daughter to look upon and make her own choices as to how to navigate this crazy, beautiful existence.”
For more information, visit matthewdonohuephotography.com