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The Eye of Polo

Mark N. Crislip – the official Photographer of La Dolfina – is published now on the cover of the new POLO+10 World issue.
Mark Crislip has a real passion for polo and is a student of the game. Photographing the sport has always come second to playing and moved to Argentina to be able to play and learn with the best. If you want to talk about the game, strategy or trade stories of injuries on the pitch, he can more than keep up.
He is an experienced sports photographer but is also an accomplished painter, as well as graphic and digital art. His paintings have been featured in galleries in the exclusive Georgetown district of Washington, DC hanging alongside artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg. Collectors include individuals from ten different countries and include prominent members of the press, political and entertainment industries.
Mark spends most of the year in Argentina. He also keeps a home in West Palm Beach, Florida and can be found in and around Wellington during the U.S. high goal season. His unique experiences as an artist and a player have given his photos a distinctive style like none other and their look has drawn clients from all over the world.
POLO+10: Mark, when did you start taking pictures and how did the fascination for being a photographer and specially a polo photographer grow?
Mark Crislip: I actually started taking photos at a very young age. My father, who was a great photographer, put a camera in my hands when I was very young and we would go out shooting together. I loved airplanes, and my father was a pilot, so we would spend a lot of time around them and he would teach me all about seeing the world through the lens. Later, we would spend hours developing photos in a darkroom and we would spend time talking about why certain photos were better than others and why light, composition and telling a story were so important. It was the best education I could receive.
Eventually I gave up photographing for painting, and that’s really where I refined my ideas of composition and balance that have worked their way into my photos. I didn’t really start shooting polo until I started playing the sport myself. Once I was injured and couldn’t play for a long time, so I decided to shoot some photos at the club to still be around the horses. All of my friends really loved the photos that I was taking and they began asking me to shoot them, and eventually more and more people began to notice my work.
POLO+10: How did you get in contact with La Dolfina?
Mark Crislip: I was approached by a representative of La Dolfina after they had seen my work displayed on social media sites and on my web site. When they asked to speak with me, of course I was flattered. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to photograph the best players in the world. It’s as if a fashion photographer were asked to shoot Gisele Bündchen or a football photographer were asked to photograph Lionel Messi. One simply does not say no!
POLO+10: What is your secret of outstanding pictures?
Mark Crislip: I think what sets my photos apart is my knowledge of the game. As a player, I know the game, I know the flow of the action, and I really like to put the viewer into the game and feel what I feel as a player. I like to say that I am not a photojournalist and my goal is not to document the action. My goal, like that of the painter, is to look for and create an image that imparts an emotional reaction and connection. I want you to see the emotion in the players face and the pulsing of the horse’s muscles. I dislike photographs that are a chaotic, unbalanced mess. To me the important shot isn’t necessarily the one where a player is making the winning goal. I would much rather shoot a photograph of a player that clearly shows the struggle and passion of the game and of the real battle between players. Those are the photographs that leave an impression and really show the beauty of the sport. There is so much splendor and magnificence in this game and I want you there feeling it.
POLO+10: What does it need to transport the whole dynamic of polo in a picture?
Mark Crislip: Polo is pure adrenaline. The sound as the horses fly by still makes the hairs on my arms stand up and the images inherent in the game are beautiful like renaissance paintings or sculptures of battle scenes. I shoot the game from angles and in such ways as to convey this feeling that the sport is larger than life. I don’t believe that there’s any other sport where there is as much potential for majesty and grace. Unfortunately, polo is also very difficult to capture because of the size of the field and the speed of the action. I think that having the right equipment, knowing the game, and above all being able to stay mobile as a photographer are critical in getting great shots.
POLO+10: How many tournaments o you attend per year and which ones are the most important?
Mark Crislip: I tend to lose track of the number of tournaments I attend in any one year, these days. I am always in Argentina during high season to shoot the Triple Crown, and I also shoot a number of smaller tournaments for clients. I also very much like to shoot women’s tournaments, and think some of my very best shots have been of some of the great Argentine women players. I am also usually in Florida during high season there. I would like to start shooting more in Europe, and have shot a number of tournaments there already. I believe that this year I will be shooting the Queen’s Cup. There is such great tradition surrounding that game, but unfortunately the weather is not usually the photographer’s friend.
POLO+10: Who are your most important clients?
Mark Crislip: I have been lucky enough to work with the two best players in the world. I work with La Dolfina, and of course get the chance to shoot Adolfo Cambiaso, but I have also been involved with Royal Salute. Facundo Pieres is now the brand ambassador for the luxury brand of whiskey, and I’ve been involved in creating images for them. Still, I think that my most important clients are the ordinary club players who are just starting out. They just love to have their photos taken since the whole world of polo is so new to them, and I’m really good at giving them tips and shooting them so that they look like professionals. It’s really quite rewarding and I’ve made a number of new friends this way.

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