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Keeneland Library debuts John C. Hemment photo exhibit; two Library Lecture Series events remain in 2019

The Keeneland Library, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, has unveiled an exhibit of photos by early Turf photographer John C. Hemment and has two events in its popular Library Lecture Series remaining in 2019.

The Library, which is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., is continuing the tradition of sharing its collections with “A Day in the Life: Volume I,” which recognizes Hemment’s influential work. The exhibit, curated by Head Librarian Roda Ferraro and the first in a series, is running through March 2020 with a virtual counterpart at keenelandlibrary.omeka.net/exhibits.

The Keeneland Library is home to the largest known surviving body of work of Hemment, a photographer during the late 19th and early 20th century. An avid athlete from England who immigrated to the U.S. in 1879, Hemment was an early pioneer in the use of cameras to capture the finishes of close races, both human and horse.

The Keeneland Library is celebrating its 80th anniversary.

His work predates actual photo finish technology by decades, but his experimentation with different lenses and shutter speeds led to some of the earliest discussions of “photo finish.”

Although his early emphasis was the finish line, Hemment’s work spanned every aspect of the track from the backside to the winner’s circle and from posed shots of industry greats to candid reflections of daily life in and around the sport.

“Hemment’s work bears a signature rawness,” Ferraro said, “and his desire to reflect an unfiltered reality through his lens drove the curation process of the exhibit.”

Each photograph conveys a single moment in the day of grooms, exercise riders, farriers, bookies, jockeys, track officials and trainers at the turn of the 20th century. Many of the people Hemment photographed in this series have been lost to history, but their often-unsung efforts comprised the backbone of the industry then just as they do today.

“Many of the exhibited photographs have never appeared in any publication, and I am thrilled we can share them with the public now,” Ferraro said. “I think Hemment, more than any other early Turf photographer, captured the grit and hard work behind the sport. These images provide us an intimate glimpse into the lives of people who woke up each morning and, in various capacities, got it done every day.

“Although the record does not shed light on the identities of some of the people in these photographs,” she added, “my intent is that the exhibit can, in some way, honor their individual and collective contributions to the industry.”

In addition to his work as a track photographer, Hemment was the photographer of record on several polar and African expeditions. He was a war photojournalist, recording the wreckage of the USS Maine in the Caribbean during the Spanish-American War as well as American Red Cross efforts during World War I.

Library Lecture Series
The public is invited to attend the Library Lecture Series, free events that spotlight new books and other projects about Thoroughbred racing. Each program begins in the Library at 6:30 p.m. with a presentation followed by a reception and book signing. A limited number of copies of books will be available for purchase.

Here is the upcoming schedule:

Oct. 22: Brien Bouyea will present his new book, The Travers: 150 Years of Saratoga’s Greatest Race, which chronicles each edition of the race from Kentucky’s victory in the inaugural 1864 running through Catholic Boy’s win in 2018. Bouyea, the Media and Communications Director of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York, wrote the book with longtime Turf writer and Hall of Fame historian Michael Veitch.

Dec. 3: Peter Lee will discuss his new book, Spectacular Bid: The Last Superhorse of the Twentieth Century, the third book in the “Horses in History” series published by the University Press of Kentucky. Lee, an author and former journalist, maintains the blog “The Way to Churchill Downs,” which reports on Kentucky Derby (G1) hopefuls for the coming year, and is a regular contributor to pastthewire.com.

From Keeneland Library

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