Dynamic. Evocative. Iconic.
These are the words often associated with professional polo photographer David Lominska’s striking images. Traveling to capture the evolving international world of polo since 1983, Lominska is a masterful storyteller, his body of work an extensive history of the sport for over three decades communicated through vivid, emotive imagery. Credited with immortalizing the most prestigious tournaments in Europe and North America throughout his career, Lominska is an undisputed leader in the industry. A native of Long Island, New York, and resident of Wellington, Florida, his current circuit is split between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, taking him on cross country treks with two Corgis (Puck and Pono) in a 1971 Airstream. As depicted through the trained lens of this former groom and intercollegiate player, Lominska’s Polographics chronicle the stories of countless victories and fiercely passionate battles, understanding both the essence of the modern day game and conveying the authentic lifestyle in which it is anchored.
Unmistakable on game day in khaki shorts often traveling by hoverboard with a tripod and long lens resting on his shoulder, Lominska is a fixture of the high-goal polo scene. The USPA caught up with him transitioning from another successful Florida winter season to a summer in Santa Barbara, California, and unearthed the story of his journey to the top, told in his characteristically easy going manner.
How did you get started in the equestrian and polo industries?
“I started riding at 14 or 15 years old when I was in high school. After two years at the University of Colorado Boulder I transferred to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and started working on an animal science degree. I was living and working on a horse ranch where I started riding trail and endurance horses. I learned a lot about practical horsemanship working with trail horses where you are judged on your horsemanship and how you take care of the horses.
I later entered the Cal Poly horse show school and I rode with a man named Barry Myers. He got involved with Ron Foster and Chris Hendrix who started the intercollegiate polo team at Cal Poly between 1976 and 1977. I played for about a year, but I still had a year of school left to go. I thought I’d come down to Santa Barbara to work as a groom for a semester and make some money and then go back and finish my degree, but I didn’t go back to school! I went down to Santa Barbara and caught the high-goal bug. I worked for Glenn Holden, spent a winter in the desert at the old Eldorado Polo Club in Palm Desert and then returned to Santa Barbara. I ended up going to Chicago with Willy B. Wilson and Wilson Ranch the last year they had the U.S. Open Polo Championship® in Chicago in 1979.”
Who or what was your inspiration to pursue photography?
“I spent the winter in Boca Raton, Florida, and started working for John T. Oxley who had just built Royal Palm Polo Club. While I was there my mother had given me a camera as a birthday present. The club photographer at that time was Dave Martin and he had a camera shop in town where he taught classes at night, just basic black and white photography and dark room work. Looking for something to do I took his course and I started shooting while I was grooming. I would shoot in my spare time and this went on for three to four years. It wasn’t long before I was doing better at the photography than grooming and I saw more of a future following that path.”
How did you transition from grooming into a full-time photographer?
“My big breakthrough came in 1983 right after the Falklands War* between England and Argentina and consequently all the Argentines were banned from England for seven years. The only other photographer at that time was Snoopy and he couldn’t return to England so Memo Gracida told me to come because nobody else was taking pictures. That’s when I quit grooming and started traveling to Europe.”
What type of camera and lenses do you use?
“I use all Canon systems and lenses from 14 millimeter all the way up to 600 millimeter. What’s nice about using a long lens like a 600 is it’s easy to take candid photos because people are unaware you are taking a picture. One of my favorite natural shots is of grooms when they are just cuddling on their horses. I love to see people interacting with their horses because when you’re a groom it’s so much a part of your life and it shows. I see them just messing with the horses’ ears, playing with their lips and just hugging on them. I love those unguarded moments. I also love showing that aspect of polo too because I think it’s important to emphasize the care and love that the horses receive.”
What circuits have you covered over the course of your career?
“I covered 11 seasons in England working for Joy Kent and the Rolex team and it was a huge opportunity. I went to England from May through July and in August I would go to Deville, France. Other times I went to Italy and Prague when eastern Europe opened up. In September, I’d often go down to Africa because I had a lot of friends in Zimbabwe and South Africa that I knew through polo. I would stay for a month or six weeks and hang out on my friends’ farms while doing a little photography.
After the English ban was lifted players built private clubs. Previously all the games would be held at Windsor Polo Club, but with the private clubs the games would spread out all over the country. It became impractical to cover the season there so I always thought if I stopped going to England I would get a camper and start traveling around the states. In 1996 I came back and I started going to all the rocky mountain clubs. At that time there was an 8- to 12-goal circuit where they’d play two weeks in Denver [Colorado], Jackson Hole [Wyoming], Calgary [Alberta, Canada], and Sun Valley [Idaho] so I followed that around. The high-goal in Santa Barbara was in the fall then so I’d end the season there. I covered Florida in the winter and then they changed the Santa Barbara high-goal season to the summer. I would also go to Aiken in the spring and fall, but currently I’m down to Florida and Santa Barbara.”
“Just like playing polo, shooting polo is all about anticipation. You have to know what is going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and where it’s going to happen and be ready and know what shots you can get in that particular play.” – David Lominska
What are the elements you are looking for to distinguish a great action shot?
“When I’m editing photos I’m looking at the horse. Anything that makes the horse look good will make a great shot especially when you can see the horses really using their bodies, pushing off and engaging their hindquarters. Usually if the horse looks good the rider will also look good because everything is in sync.”
What is your favorite type of shot to capture?
“I like interesting shots especially hooks when you see the mallets wrapped around each other and guys hitting the ball out of the air. My favorite is when you have two players riding off with the ball in the frame so you see what play is developing. I like to see them really struggling for the ball. One photo in particular I took that was really unusual was of three mallets all hooking each other simultaneously.”
Why did you choose to specialize exclusively in polo?
“I just fell in love with polo. Other than trail riding it’s the most natural sport for horses. Playing polo you are asking them to perform moves that horses do naturally. If you put a group of horses in a field you’ll see them making all the same movements as on the field; I love the sport for that. They are herd animals so in polo they are always with other horses, handled in groups and taken out in sets.
As far as photography, it’s an endless subject to shoot. Also I know the sport, having played and worked it I understand the game and I think that gives me the advantage over other photographers. Just like playing polo, shooting polo is all about anticipation. You have to know what is going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and where it’s going to happen and be ready and know what shots you can get in that particular play. Not only are there great shots on the field, but there’re great shots off the field. In Santa Barbara all the horses are walked down to the field so you have great pictures of people leading seven to eight horses at a time and it’s like watching a beautiful parade. The tack, the Argentine gear, the colored bandages and jerseys – all of it is very picturesque and so unique to the sport of polo.”
Are there any subjects you enjoy photographing in addition to polo?
“When I went to Africa I took photos of wildlife which was amazing. In Zimbabwe’s national parks I would go walking on foot to photograph elephants, hippos, crocodiles, antelopes and baboons. I especially love taking pictures of baboons because they are so funny. At home in Florida I like catching wildlife shots of birds and alligators in the canals.”
“I love doing this work every day. It’s always different and there’s always something new. Polo’s allowed me to visit different places and taken me all over the world. The only place I haven’t been ironically is Argentina, but it’s on the list!” – David Lominska
Is there any advice you can share with us?
“If I was ever going to teach someone I would teach them how to edit because with digital you can shoot without limitation, it’s just knowing what’s a good shot and what isn’t. Before digital, in 2003 I worked completely with film and I did all my own developing and printing. Working with film trains you because you have to make every shot count. You’re paying for every picture you take and since you only have 35-36 on a roll before you have to switch films you really have to pay close attention to the details.”
*The Falklands War was a ten-week war in 1982 between Argentina and the United Kingdom over two British dependent territories in the South Atlantic.