Steve Hart

published: 11 Jun 2013 in Personality profiles

Steve Hart was determined his dream of combining his passions for racing and photography would one day become a reality and provide a full time career. He achieved his goal through hard work and dedication and now he’s giving something back to the sport as a director of Wyong Race Club.


ALMOST 30 years ago Steve Hart dreamed of creating an ideal working environment. It was to combine his passions for photography and for racing, which he had begun developing as a schoolboy. At the time he was grinding his way through an apprenticeship as a fitter and machinist, but as soon as he reached the end of the course Steve set his sights on achieving his objective.
  The first step was to begin working at Fletcher Photographics while undertaking a number of related courses. He was also going racing regularly and this led to him receiving media accreditation from the Australian Jockey Club in the early 1980s.
  By 1986 he felt he was in a position to launch Steve Hart Photographics. It was a stern test of his character and courage because, for a number of years, he was forced to work in three jobs to support a young family. However, his dedication, focus and perseverance overcame all obstacles to the point where his name is now synonymous with photographic excellence. 
A multiple award winner, his photos, from an earlier era, and his digital images, from the past decade or so, have been published in numerous magazines and are on display in race clubs and administrative offices along the eastern seaboard.
  “It wasn’t easy to begin with, but I suppose it’s reasonable to say I haven’t looked back since I opened the business,” Steve said. “It has been brilliant for me to be able to join together my loves of photography and racing to forge the career I have. I am able to mix action, atmosphere and emotion into my work and it is really fulfilling, inspirational for me.
  “Also, I’ve been very fortunate because over the past 10 or 15 years we have seen some magnificent horses racing. We all talk about Black Caviar at present but we’ve also had horses such as Might and Power, Sunline, and Lonhro who was such a stunning individual you couldn’t take a bad image of him.”
  A successful owner in his own right, he raced Can You Dance who won 10 races, Steve has in more recent times diverged into producing a range of t-shirts, coffee mugs, stubby holders and mouse pads embellished with photographs of star performers. 
“I’ve found people like to have their favourite horses such as a Lonhro or a Black Caviar, on the novelty items we produce, and they are proving quite popular.”
  Additionally of late, he has also been “putting something back” into the industry as a director of the Wyong Race Club following his election to the board of directors in November. “Racing has been really good to me for quite a long time, so if I can help in any way I’m more than willing to contribute. I see being on the board at Wyong as a way to do that.”
  It was, as Steve says, only a year or two after coming “Down Under” that he had been introduced to racing on the Central Coast of NSW. A Liverpudlian by birth, he had left the port-city, regarded by the Guinness Book of Records as the world capital of pop, for Australia as a nine year-old.
  “Along with my younger brothers Peter and Phil, my parents John and Cath emigrated in November 1968. We arrived in Sydney in January 1969. “My mother’s sister had emigrated earlier and she always felt there was a better life available in Australia. My mother talked my father into the move and we all came down as a family.”
  The Harts settled in Dee Why on Sydney’s north shore, where Steve and his brothers attended primary school before going on to Manly Boys’ High School. By then he had been introduced to the joys of photography by his grandfather Len, who was “pretty handy with a camera” which led to him taking a photographic class in his final year at Manly Boys’ High.
  On graduating Steve began his apprenticeship in fitting and machining but “hated every minute of it”. “Right from the outset I decided I wanted to find some other employment and after I finished my apprenticeship I found my way into Fletchers Photographic store in Dee Why,” he said. 
“I had developed a bit of a passion for photography and it was there that I started to hone my skills. During the time I was there I basically drove the other shop assistants mad because I asked so many questions about the ins and outs of the business, so I could learn.”
  Along the way his parents had been taking Steve and his brothers racing. “We would holiday as young kids on the Central Coast and for some entertainment we would go to the races at Gosford and Wyong. We would also go the races in Sydney on Saturdays. I liked what I saw, and I became hooked. From there it became a natural progression to combine my interest and passion for horse racing with my photography and really that’s how it all started.”
  While contemplating his future Steve organised a visit back to Merseyside to coincide with the running of the 1981 Grand National Steeplechase over four and a half miles at Aintree racecourse, which is located on the outskirts of Liverpool. It was a fairy tale renewal with the high powered combination of the injury-plagued Aldaniti and Bob Champion who had overcome cancer, proving triumphant. However while enthralled with the contest Steve says he has his reservations about the event.
  “I was at Aintree just as an observer. It was an unbelievable race, a great spectacle. Of the 40 horses or so who start in the Grand National only a handful ever finish the race and a number are put down, which I must admit bothered me greatly.”
  On returning to the more refined style of racing in Australia, Steve was further inspired by the calibre of horses racing with the likes of Kingston Town, Sir Dapper, Red Anchor and Emancipation all establishing themselves as superstars of the turf. “The first top horse I ever took a good photo of was Emancipation, after she won the Doncaster Handicap in 1983. However it wasn’t easy to become an established part of the scene.
  “You had to prove who you were working for but I had the help of people like Mike Davis, the late Graeme Clark, and Warwick Hobson who unfortunately has passed away as well. The association with them provided the foundation for my application to the Australian Jockey Club for media accreditation, which I received.”
  The fact that he was supplying photos for publications like Australian Thoroughbreds, Racetrack and Turf Monthly enabled him to be on hand at Flemington in 1984 when Black Knight, with Peter Cook in the saddle, won the Melbourne Cup. However the income Steve was making from his new venture was not sufficient to sustain a young family. 
“I actually had three jobs,” he said. “I was delivering newspapers for a newsagency in the morning and then I’d go home change and go to my job at the photographic shop. At the weekends I worked on the horses which was only providing a little income, but the business was building steadily.”
  Then in 1986 Steve had a major breakthrough after approaching Brian Russell, founder of The Australian Bloodhorse Review which has morphed into Bluebloods, about working for him.
  “Brian began using my photos and everything has progressed from there. I picked up other publications including the New Zealand Bloodhorse. After a while I virtually had an arrangement to supply photos for all the monthly publications that involved horse racing, breeding or punting. From there I started to take on the studs . . . the stallions, the broodmares, the yearlings and the sales. I’ve had very good clients including George Altomonte’s Corumbene Stud and Tyreel, at Agnes Banks.”
  Steve also became a regular at the Melbourne Cup Spring Carnival. “Going to Melbourne for the Cup has always been a huge buzz for me. It has just grown and grown and grown since I’ve been going, and now it’s absolutely huge. The adrenalin begins pumping as soon as you arrive in Melbourne, and you know you have to be on your toes because there is plenty of competition out there.
  “I have never experienced anything like the emotion around the win of Damien Oliver on Media Puzzle in 2002, with the victory coming just days after his brother had been killed in a race fall, and of course I will never forget Makybe Diva’s third Melbourne Cup win in 2005. Another very memorable Melbourne Cup for me was in 2009. I am very close to Corey Brown so it was quite a thrill see him win on Shocking, and that year he finished up dominating the four days of racing at Flemington.”
  By then Steve Hart Photographics was well and truly established in Gosford after being originally based at Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains. With the operation flourishing he had, in May 2002, been drawn to the city which serves as the commercial centre of the NSW Central Coast. It was a “win-win” decision, for besides further boosting his business returns he was, with Wyong less than 20km further north, in a thriving racing environment.
  Added to that, his standing had been further boosted as the recipient of awards for his work from the TAB and the owners’ association. His reputation had soared as a result of his brilliant photo, this was still before digital images came into vogue, of Octagonal, with Darren Beadman aboard, beating Saintly and Nothin’ Leica Dane in a breathtaking finish to the STC Rosehill Guineas-Gr.1 in 1996.
  “It was really pleasing to have my efforts recognised by the industry. I suppose that finish of the Rosehill Guineas is the most famous shot I’ve taken. It was taken back in the film days when you didn’t really know what sort of a shot you had until it was processed. When I saw the image I thought ‘that’s a pretty good shot’ without knowing at that stage, just how outstanding Octagonal, Saintly and Nothin’ Leica Dane were going to be.
  “I didn’t know either how famous the picture was going to become because when they look at the photo, even now, people instantly realise how great a finish it was and how great those horses became; and looking back, it was very difficult to take a picture like I had achieved, because we were still shooting in film. With film and manual focused cameras you never quite knew what you had, but these days with digital images it’s a lot easier.
  “The cameras nowadays have auto-focus, they set the exposures, they set the apertures and all of the rest of it, so basically all you have to do is point and shoot. When the digital cameras came in around 2001 or 2002 it was a revelation for the photographic world. Everyone got on board very quickly, because among other things, you became able to review yours shots straight away. Play best friv games site.
  “Although obviously you couldn’t change your shots of race finishes you are able to alter the poses and positions at presentations and that sort of thing. 
It is completely different from the film days and is absolutely beneficial for someone in my line of work.”
  Living and working in the area, during the days when film was evolving into digital, Steve has become a highly respected identity among the racing fraternity on the Central Coast. This has enabled him to develop many valued friendships with administrators and others in the industry. “Over the years since I moved to the Central Coast I have built a particularly close association with the Wyong club, which I hold dearly. This included having a very good relationship with the club’s previous chief executive officer John Farley for many, many years and this has continued through to the present CEO Tony Drew.
  “I am very proud to have been elected to the club’s board. As well as providing pictorial images I’ve felt I could give something back to racing with the experience, the know-how and the contacts I have made in the industry. That led to me throwing my hat into the ring at Wyong, and luckily, I was elected. It is the first time I have been involved on the administrative side of racing and I will be in the position for the next three years at least.”
  He had, however, had some previous inkling into what happens behind the scenes through long-time friend Mal Fitzgerald. A former jockey, Mal is the Racing New South Wales mentor for apprentices in the Northern Rivers area. “Mal was plagued by weight problems during his career and I helped on the occasions when things were getting on top of him. Through that we have become very close friends, like brothers, and he is doing a very good job for racing in the areas around Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour.”
  “I have another good friend in Andrew Gibbons, and the Berry boys, Nathan and Tommy, have always been very good to me. Interestingly, it’s the young jockeys coming through the ranks who tend to be the main buyers of images. I remember after Josh Parr won his first Gr.1 on Skilled for Peter Snowden in the Champagne Stakes in 2010, he was adamant he wanted the best image of the finish; and rightly so because they are memorable occasions that they should be proud of.”
  These days Steve has turned his attention to nurturing the photographic skills of his son Adam, 22, and daughter Rachael, 18, who are both following in his footsteps. “Adam is pretty handy with a camera and Rachael is an enthusiast, so they are both working part-time for me on Saturdays. They enjoy the thrill of racing and the camaraderie, so I’m hoping they will eventually come into the business with me on a full-time basis.” n