with Horse and Hound

Sporting Photographer Janet Hitchen

janet hitchen3.leesDouglas Lees photoPopular and widely-respected photographer Janet Hitchen (neé Goldberg) died at her home near Millwood, Virginia on Tuesday evening, March 24, 2015. She was seventy-one.

Brilliant at her art, she has, over the last few decades, recorded a magnificent visual historical record of people and events in the world of field sport in and around Virginia. I fervently hope that her collection of negatives and digital image files will be preserved in her name, in the custody of a capable and responsible archivist, for the benefit of sporting researchers and writers of the future.

Janet was my go-to photographer from the early 1990s on, whenever I needed an image for Covertside. When I published the first full-color foxhunting calendar for the American Foxhound Club in 1998, she was the first photographer I called. Two of her photos were included in that inaugural calendar, and her photos have graced the pages and covers of Covertside and our Foxhunting Life Calendars ever since.

Janet grew up in Washington, DC and moved with her family to Potomac, Maryland in her early teens. She attended the University of Maryland and followed her love for horses. She competed in horse shows, became a member of the Potomac Hunt, trained hunters, and taught riding. She married and divorced three times.

After discovering her passion and talent for photography, she trained at the Corcoran College of Arts and Design in Washington, DC, started her own business, and soon could be found either at a horse show, point-to-point, sanctioned steeplechase, or foxhunting fixture—camera, kit, and eyeglasses draped about her neck—plying her craft. Her photographs were published regularly and widely, locally and nationally, appearing in Covertside, Middleburg Life, Foxhunting Life, In & Around Horse Country, The Chronicle of the Horse, and certainly many others I don’t even know.

Having mastered her art, she was always willing to help others who followed in her footsteps. When the digital revolution swept the photographic products industry, she turned for help to Matthew Klein, a foxhunter based in Millwood, Virginia, who lives his other life as a commercial photographer in New York City. Each was an admirer of the other’s work.

“Long before I met her, I was in awe of Janet’s instincts and reflexes as a photographer,” said Klein. “I always make note of a superior photo, and it seemed that whenever I saw one in a magazine, it was Janet’s. Her work was always distinguished by critically sharp focus, clear color, and a sense of timing that showed the subject, whether human or animal, in perfect balance.”

Janet’s other passion was the welfare of animals. If she had a patron saint, it would have to be Noah. She rescued animals of every type—dogs, cats, horses, ponies, donkeys, chickens, emus, pigs—and brought them home. Hundreds, surely, over the course of her lifetime. She died surrounded by her dogs, both in her bed and beside it.

She was her very own person and never hesitated to speak her mind about the welfare of animals. She must have been conflicted about her love of sport, foxhunting, and foxhounds. She heard the party line about the despicable and even unlawful acts committed by HSUS and PETA, but she would respectfully defend those organizations for whatever good acts they accomplished for the benefit of animals.

When the weather was kind, she enjoyed lunches at an outside table at Lockes Store in Millwood. Her table would quickly fill with friends and admirers. If I got there early enough, I might even find a seat for myself. One of those green tables needs to be dedicated to her memory.

Janet’s framed images are found hanging in homes, shops, and galleries, many privately commissioned. Each year when springtime rolls around, it’s been my habit to pick up the phone and dial her number. “It’s calendar time again,” I would say. “Come over and we’ll go through what I’ve got,” she’d reply. I’d wade through the animals and clutter in the office, find a chair yet unclaimed by one of the dogs, and sit down as her computer screens came to life with her amazing images. I will miss that terribly this year.

Posted March 27, 2015

A celebration of Janet’s life will be held on Friday, April 17, 2015 at Farmer’s Delight, 36276 Mountville Road, Middleburg, Virginia from noon to 2:00 pm. The invitation says, “Rain or shine, Come as you are. All of her friends are welcome!”

Update posted April 9, 2015