Cover : Luke Tomlinson, Clare Mountbatten, Marchioness of Milford Haven and Eduardo Novillo Astrada at La Aguada, the Novillo Astrada family’s polo estate, 2015

Parisian photographer Aline Coquelle talks about the sport of polo and why it has mesmerised her enough to produce her third book on it

There’s something about polo that seduces the creative eye of photographer Aline Coquelle. For how else to explain almost two decades of producing amazing shots of the sport in all its aspects and angles, phases and stages, vignettes and moments. The richness of Coquelle’s polo cache easily produced three beautiful tomes on the sport: The Cartier Polo Games (2006); Polo: The Nomadic Tribe (2009); and her latest, Polo Heritage (2021). In an interview with Tatler Philippines editor-in-chief Anton San Diego, the Parisian photographer gave her reasons for this attraction.

“The union between horses and humans is amazing! It’s like I was photographing centaurs!” she enthused. She added that polo has also taken her to exclusive, sometimes exotic landscapes to capture the passion, the adrenaline, the dream-team power that all come with the sport.

Like many of her other books, Polo Heritage was published by Assouline. Its foreword was written by international polo player Nacho Figueras who wrote, “I see polo as a sport that connects a groom from Argentina to the Queen of England—and the total opposite of elitist.”

The succeeding 300 pages chronicle Coquelle’s journey from Mongolia to Mexico, Barbados to Pakistan in pursuit of the most prestigious polo tournaments on all possible surfaces—grass, sand, snow. Through her dramatic images, she takes the readers to the historic polo grounds in India as well as the high society world of British polo. Immerse, likewise, in Argentina’s polo culture and find out why it has produced some of the best polo players, and families, in the world—Figueras included.

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the world—Figueras included. Some experiences come top of mind to Coquelle. “In Shandur, Hindu Kush, Pakistan, I photographed the life in a nomadic tribe’s mountain camp on the highest polo field of the world, 4000 metres! The Désert Polo in Saudi Arabia was held in the extraordinary site of Alula amid sublime historical archaeological landscapes. And the Palermo tournament in Buenos Aires, Argentina is where only the best of the best polo players and horses compete, specifically at the legendary stadium called the Cathédrale of Polo, where the horses are like Ferraris and the players are the Elite: Worldwide Stars, most of them Argentinean, of course.”

Coquelle, who has a degree in art history and anthropology, is known for her silver-gelatin film photography, an old-style silverbased instant photographs like those pioneered by Polaroid and sold from 1947 to 1983. She employed this technique to Polo Heritage. 

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“If only humanity is united like a polo team composed of all nationalities, ages, genders and social background—we will all be one, living in peace and respect”

“I wanted to transmit timeless emotions and inscribe polo in a form of art. I hope my photography can enlighten the essence of the game through actions, still life, portraits, landscapes, atmospheres,” she said. When she processes her films, Coquelle said she felt “like an alchemist”, hoping she could make her readers feel the magic and emotions in the photographs. With Polo Heritage, the photographer said she “wanted to transmit a passion, a sport and a way of life from generation to generation”.

Likewise, “I also wanted to show the backstage of a game where I shared life with the horse breeders, horse breakers, polo players, lads, families. And I want to transcend the sport into an art through my photography for collecting and sharing.”

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After photographing polo since 2003, Coquelle has realised one message that she wants imparted through this latest book: “If only humanity is united like a polo team—comprising all nationalities, ages, genders and social backgrounds—we will all be one, living in peace and respect.” This third book on polo will not be Coquelle’s last. The first steps have already been taken for yet another book in a few years, perhaps to be called Polo the Legend, with more images in remote and extraordinary places again and of the new faces of polo aficionados worldwide.

“It will be, I would love to imagine along with my publishers, a very big size book coffret called Polo the Legend. And it should be my ultimate one,” she declares. Unless her passion for polo dissipates, it’s probably best not to hold your breath.

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This story was originally published on Tatler Philippines' November 2021 issue. Download it on Magzter for free.

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