a life's rhythm: Bri Cimino
By: Maria Egolf-Romero
There's a natural rhythm to our world, and we often lose its measure. It's obscured by the din of traffic, or drowned in the row of a room filled with conversation. But there are ways to come back to it, like listening to music, spending a summer evening in the garden, or riding a horse.
Photographer, feminist, and equine enthusiast Bri Cimino documents riders on horseback in her series Beneath the Saddle. The young artist focuses her lens (often while riding herself), aiming to catch the moment her subjects settle into this innate peace. "I felt I was capturing moments that only the rider could really understand," she tells me one morning over French press coffee in her home. "Taking the photograph, I felt I translated that moment to the viewer."
The series is composed of black-and-white images shot in landscapes from California, Montana, Arizona, Utah, and more. Each features riders on horseback as they meander some of the country's most spectacular settings. "Sometimes, I go out there with an exact idea of the composition, where I want the riders and the mountains, the sky and the grass," Bri says. "But sometimes it just happens ... and that's a big part of the process when you're creating something. You could have something in mind, but then you start working on it and it completely changes into something else that you enjoy better."
Bri communicates peace through these images. They pull your eye toward the horizon and present the viewer with a plethora of nature, all while documenting the connections between horse and rider. "There's something so special about being able to commune in harmony with the land on a horse, and with that horse," she says. "I was trying to capture those types of moments."
Leading guest rides through Abiquiu, New Mexico, Bri's daily existence takes place among terraced desert plateaus, striated with pale rainbows of pink, orange, and red earth. Some places, like Plaza Blanca — known for being one of artist Georgia O'Keeffe's favorite spots, and where Bri has taken images for the series — are composed of ivory, cream, and baby pink sands that stand out against blue skies.
The experiences Bri witnesses in these beautifully alien terrains directly inspire her art. "I've met people from the city, like Chicago or New York, or I remember one couple specifically: They were from Germany, where it's really dark and gray," she says. "They live in a concrete jungle. There's not really a horizon line. There's no animals or nature.
"On a few of these rides, I watched people cry."
Through Cimino's photography, and a large Instagram following of nearly 12,000 people, she's built a worldwide, equine-loving network. She has plans to travel to Spain, France, and Italy this year to shoot her first international images for Beneath the Saddle, and sees it as an ongoing venture.
But, Bri has other projects brewing, too.
In March 2016, she showed images from Beneath the Saddle in Los Angeles as part of the group show "Far West" at a pop-up gallery in the arts district, sponsored by Maxwell Alexander Gallery. At the opening she met Cassandra Ogier, a fellow equestrian enthusiast and feminist force who co-founded She Herd Power with actress and fellow feminist and equestrian Beth Behrs (whom you may know from her starring role on the CBS comedy show "Two Broke Girls").
She Herd Power is a nonprofit organization that facilitates therapeutic, horse-immersion-based retreats for survivors of sexual assault. Bri met Casssandra and Beth right as they got the program running, and was invited to attend the pilot program and photograph the retreat. Bri filmed the participants' testimonials during the pilot weekend, and says the experience motivated her: “It just inspired me to really think about who we are as women, and what we stand for — but also how we're viewed by an outsider."
And from there, her newest series, Wallflower, was born. Featuring full-color images of nude women from the waist down who lay spread eagle with flowers covering their vaginas, this series is about making a statement with images that cannot be ignored, Bri says. She'd been thinking about creating a new series with the Wallflower title for about a year before her experience with She Herd Power. "I knew there was something to it," she says, "but it wasn't until I met these women and listened to their experiences ... Some of them felt passed by. I decided that this would be a way to create something you couldn't just pass by."
Presenting such striking images made Bri nervous, at first. "I've gotten over that," she says. "Bringing women into the studio and having them dress down and spread their legs and adorning their pussy with flowers … Everyone was so happy; they felt good afterwards. It was very celebratory, and I really feel good about showing these images."
And this feminist photographer has big dreams for a therapeutic equestrian ranch of her own, which I ask her to visualize for me on that crisp winter morning.
"I imagine this ranch set outside Santa Fe with space and maybe a couple of housing buildings," she begins. "I envision it being a ranch created for women who are ready to change their direction. Maybe their life choices have led to things they're unhappy with, or maybe life has thrown some curveballs at them, and they want to grow. I envision it being a place they can work and learn how to feed horses and groom them and take care of them and exercise them. All those steps and processes of learning lead to understanding boundaries and confidence, and you get to see all those things reflected back as you're working with the horse."
As well as fostering women who stay at the ranch, Bri plans to offer full-time employment positions to female parolees, and to have a roster of programs for at-risk youth. She hopes to generate part of the funds to maintain these programs and salaries by inviting artists to stay on the ranch and teach a class or workshop open to the public, the proceeds of which would go back into the ranch and its endeavors. "I would love to host an artist for a month," she says, "giving them the opportunity to create in whatever their medium is."
Right now, this ranch is a dream that lives only in Bri's future. She's actively seeking investments and land to make it a reality, and her path thus far proves she accomplishes things she sets her mind to. You can keep up with her on her Instagram @palominocimino and follow a few of her equine-loving ladies, too: @bethbehrs, @peonyo, @bigskybandits. Just by looking through their photos, you may feel that natural beat.
About the author: Maria was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she currently lives working as a freelance journalist. She wrote several 2017 cover stories in the Santa Fe Reporter, and had a former column called Bed Head, which focused on New Mexico-based fashion. She also makes clothing and sells curated vintage through her online shop Heirmana. Over the past year, Maria has become more and more dedicated to telling women's stories, as she feels it is the best work she can do during this time of change, awakening and female empowerment. She highlights women who are inspiring movements, breeding positivity, and spreading supportive messages to other women through their art, music, food, design, writing, and more.