24 September 2017 . By Tristan Hooper
Each year, the migratory Reed Warbler leaves Africa, travelling for the wetlands of Europe. A great many end their journey in the United Kingdom, finding sanctuary not amongst lofty tree canopies, but hidden deep within the reed beds that surround our rivers, lakes, and ponds.
The male warblers construct intricate nests amongst the tall reeds to cradle the eggs of their young. Tucked away from sight, it’s perfectly feasible that one could go a lifetime without seeing or stumbling upon one of these nests – such is nature’s design.
Photographer, Sam Laughlin became inspired to make the work after reading the book, Cuckoo by Cambridge Professor, Nick Davies – Warblers and Cuckoos have a unique relationship in that the latter species is known to hoodwink Warblers into caring for their young by sneaking eggs into their nests. Laughlin travelled to the Fenlands, near Cambridgeshire, and together with Davies sought out the nests of this elusive species. The resulting photographs opt not for drama or spectacle, but instead provide a glimpse of something quietly remarkable.
Each image is like a portrait; the character of each nest informed directly by the natural instincts of its maker – undoubtedly the product of fastidious construction, yet primal and organic. Contemplating the photographs, there is a sense of quiet privilege. These nests have been sought out, discovered hidden amongst dense foliage – the pictures provide a window into a sanctum – the nests like fabricated wombs enclosed within a protective shroud. The cocoon-like assemblages are grafted between reeds growing out of water, stitched into their habitat. Some of the nests almost resemble hearts, the woven materials like veins and muscle.
There is something distinctly precarious about the idea of birth and infancy, suspended above water amongst swaying reeds. In these pictures, life literally clings to life yet, equally, there is a sense of calm in the compositions, of hushed resilience and ingenuity. Laughlin’s neutral gaze, monochrome, uniformed in distance and framing, depicts the nests in situ – there is something pleasingly restrained in the perspectives offered, there is no sense that this special space is being invaded, instead the viewpoint offered is respectful, considerate of the subject being depicted. The ordered clarity of the compositions likely belies the challenges involved in seeking these nests out deep within waterlogged reed beds. We, the viewers, however, are granted the time to contemplate and scrutinise the constructions – comparing their nuances and pondering the work that goes into making them. Whilst these nests are constructed from inanimate matter; likely dead twigs and other debris, they seem like a perfect symbol for life. These nests nurture life in terms of the eggs and chicks they shelter, and they are directly representative of their makers – manifestations of their individual personalities and natural tendencies.
The photographs depict something that is fragile, but at the same time robust enough to withstand the elements and protect the beginnings of new life. In one sense, the photographs seem to speak of the struggles and feats that occur frequently within nature and to which we, as people, are mostly oblivious.
Please visit Sam Laughlin’s website for more images: www.samlaughlin.co.uk
16 May 2016 . By João Bento
Brigitte Bauer was born in 1959 in Germany. She has been living and working in Arles, France, since 1987. Bauer works with photography and video. Her most recent project is called ‘Dogwalk’ (2011-2014).
João Bento: When did you start your artistic career? On your website it is written that ‘Ostdeutschland’ was photographed in 1990 but, apparently, the images were somewhat forgotten until 2009. Your first significant project was ‘Montagne Sainte-Victoire’, made between 1992 and 1994 – would you agree?
Brigitte Bauer: Indeed, my career started with ‘Montagne Sainte-Victoire’. With that series I had my first exhibitions and first purchases for public and private collections. The photographs from ‘Ostdeutschland’ were taken in 1990 – just after my diploma at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles – and they were not part of an elaborate project. They were just pictures that I took on my first trip to former East Germany in the summer of 1990, in the period after the fall of the Wall, before the reunification. I forgot about these images for a long time. I only came back to them in 2012 when the Ecole Nationale asked some of their former students for a contribution to the book ‘Qu’avez-vous fait de la photographie’, published to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the school.
How do you describe your artistic practice?
My work is mostly about the exploration of the mundane and unspectacular places. After ‘Montagne Sainte-Victoire’ I realised that I was not interested in places of significant beauty and special meaning (‘Montagne Sainte-Victoire’ has a long tradition in painting). I often go to places that are really ordinary and where I might discover something interesting, like paintball players in the forest (‘Jeu de forêt’, 2008) or couples in the streets of Alexandria, Egypt (‘Fragments d’intimité – Alexandrie’, 2005-07). Another part of my work is more personal, as the questioning of cultural identity in ‘D’Allemagne’ (2001-2002) or the recent ‘Dogwalk’, which is concerned with an aspect of my everyday life. In general, my approach looks documentary but I think that every photograph is a construction of some sort and sometimes in my work there are elements of ‘mise en scène’ that might not be so obvious to identify. For example, in the projects ‘Aller aux jardins’ (2010-2011) and in ‘AlexWest’ (2009/2012/ongoing).
What is the relationship between the collective project ‘France(s) Territoire Liquide’, Paul Wombell and your project ‘Dogwalk’?
The idea behind France(s) Territoire Liquide (FTL) was to gather many photographers – from different backgrounds, various locations and different ages too – and collectively investigate the French landscape(s) of today, following the example of previous group projects such as DATAR in the 1980’s. The four photographers that started FTL wanted to work with an independent curator and chose Paul Wombell, for his long experience and excellent skill. I was then invited to participate, as one of the photographers. There was no money and everybody had to do the work within his or her own means. That is one of the reasons why I decided to do a project ‘at home’. Also, I had never created work in Arles before and I have been living here for 26 years now. I started ‘Dogwalk’ at the end of 2011 and I stopped in March 2014 to be ready for the big group exhibition at TriPostal in Lille, in June of that year. Paul validated every project, he was heavily involved in the presentation of the work at the exhibition and he wrote all the introductory texts.
How much of this project is about the nature of dog walking and how much is about the things you saw while dog walking? Do you think it is appropriate to make a distinction?
The two depend on each other so it is hard to make a distinction. All the walks took place in areas where there were no cars and where it was safe for my dog Charo to move around. I more-or-less adapted to her rhythm and I noticed things that I would not have seen if I had been walking alone. For example, when Charo brought her stick back to me, I had to bend to collect it, so I got a new perspective and saw things from a different angle. I paid attention to stuff I usually do not notice, like things lying on the ground, pieces of garbage or little flowers. When I saw Charo putting her nose in the air, I wondered what she was smelling and how such a smelling world could be. “Dog walking” also means “routine” and “repetition”, both of which can be very useful for seeing things. Normally I don’t go back dozens of times to the same places but this time I did. I took many pictures of the same place or the same object on different occasions. I decided to keep no more than 12 images from each walk. Still, I finished the project with nearly 3000 photographs to choose from.
Can you tell me about using a mobile phone camera to develop the project?
It was the first time that I used a mobile phone camera (a Samsung Galaxy S) for ‘serious’ work and I was really surprised by the quality of the images. Of course, I will not be able to make big prints, but that is not a problem because I consider that these images do not need to be enlarged. 30×40 cm is okay. Using the camera menu, it is possible to make some adjustments, like the way it focuses for example, which is useful. What I missed was a shoulder strap to have it around my neck! It would have been useful, especially when Charo asked me to pick up and throw the stick!
From the kind of images that you have shown, one could imagine that you only walked Charo during the day and that you did not go out if it was raining. Did you experiment making photographs during bad weather and at night?
Sometimes it was raining and I took pictures, but there are only a few images with bad weather because the weather does not get like that so often, here in the South of France. I never go out at night for these walks - in most places where I photographed there are no streetlights so I would not be able to see anything. I live in a house with a big garden and therefore I do not need to go out with Charo early in the morning or late at night.
What kind of dog is Charo?
A crossbreed, Border Collie and Malinois (Belgian Shepherd).
Charo is an interesting name – where does it come from?
Her name is Spanish, it is the diminutive from “Rosario”, and is also the main character from a series of books by Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, where Charo is the prostitute girlfriend of Pepe Carvalho.
How old is she?
She is 14, born in April.
How did Charo come into your life?
Charo came from an animal refuge. She was born there and we got her when she was 6 weeks old.
Have you had dogs before?
No, I would have loved to, but when I was younger my lifestyle (travelling a lot, living alone, in little flats) made it difficult. But my parents had a farm and I grew up with many kinds of animals.
Some photographers have made work with or about their own dogs as a way to recognise their importance. Could this be a hidden dimension in your work?
In the beginning it was not. When I started thinking about FTL I just thought about where and how I could do a long-term landscape project. Then, quickly, I became conscious that Charo is really at the heart of this work and I am glad to show in this way how important she is in my life. Seeing how we live with our own dogs, and observing friends with their dogs, I consider them to be 100% family members. Not like children of course – I would never call Charo “my baby” or such a thing – but as real companions.
In Lille you showed three groups of images (‘Classements’, ‘Promenades’ and ‘Poteau rouge’), plus a video from Charo’s perspective (‘Charo’s video’) and a single image of Charo (‘2014-02-23 15.51.37’).
What was your intention for presenting a photograph in isolation? It works for me as an establishing shot, one that says “this is a project about walking this dog, in this particular landscape, at a particular moment in my life.”
Yes, you are right. For me it was important to show a single image of Charo, but not in a specific situation. This one is meant to be a kind of “generique” (representative) photo that stands for all the others. Also, every photograph that I took during this project could be shown as a single image.
In ‘Classements’ we see different objects, views and situations that you found during the walks. The series ‘Promenades’ shows several locations where you walked with Charo. ‘Poteau rouge’ is a piece showing one particular place on different days…
The promenade along the river is one of my favourite walks. It has a red structure located more-or-less in the middle of the walk that I noticed every time. It is a strong visual object in the landscape that I knew even before I had Charo. For the exhibition I combined images from many of these walks in one piece and I always positioned the “poteau rouge” images so that, in the end, they made a vertical line of red structures.
What was people’s initial response to your work in the exhibition?
As far as I observed, the reactions were very different. Some people were not interested at all, they just passed by the different frames, while others paid great attention to every piece of the work. Frequent questions were about the number of pictures, the frequency of the walks and people wanted to know how I chose the pictures out of the 3000 that I took. Some found it amusing and others were really interested in the fact that an animal was a real partner in this work.
Brigitte Bauer is currently showing ‘Dogwalk’ with France(s) Territoire Liquide at MAPRAA in Lyon until the 25th of May and has an upcoming exhibition at Parcours de l’Art in Avignon from the 1st to the 23rd of October 2016.
Brigitte Bauer’s website: brigittebauer.fr
This text was also published on Animalia Vegetalia Mineralia, a journal written in Portuguese and English dedicated to ecomedia and ecocritical studies: animaliavegetaliamineralia.org
01 January 2016 . By João Bento
Every now and then I come across a piece of art that resonates with me. This happened to me with projects made by Jo Longhurst, Julia Schlosser and Lisa Strömbeck. Jo, Julia and Lisa lived with dogs that changed their lives, inspiring them to create artwork that questions what it means to be a dog as well as the dynamics of the human-canine relationship.
My first encounter with Jo’s work was at an artist talk that she gave in Newport (Wales, UK) in 2009. ‘The Refusal’ is an ongoing project made up from various bodies of work that examine different aspects of the British show Whippet. My favourite pieces are ‘Portrait of a dog’, with Vincent, and an image from ‘It’s all in my mind’, with Terence. Vincent and Terence are Jo’s dogs.
In ‘Portrait of a dog’, a naked man and a dog lay together on a couch. Neither of them appears more powerful than the other, the dog has equal status with the man. Moreover, the man has his back to the camera, remaining anonymous while the dog challenges the viewer looking directly at the lens. Here we see the dog as an independent subject, while the sleeping man shows his animal body.
The cosy ‘It’s all in my mind’ focuses on the dog’s heads. In one of the images a dog sleeps with his mouth open as he is dreaming and possibly barking. This gives a glimpse into the rich and complex mind of dogs which, just as in the human mind, also operates with unconscious processes.
Steve Baker’s book ‘Artist | Animal’, published in 2013, is highly recommended for those interested in the ethical considerations of contemporary artists when working with animals or representing them. It was here that I serendipitously found Julia Schlosser.
Julia’s most recent projects are about living with her own pets. ‘Roam’ is a collection of Polaroids made at Sepulveda Basin Off-Leash Dog Park in LA, where Julia used to take her rescued dog, Tess. The images follow Tess and other dogs having plenty of exercise and socializing with each other, temporarily free from the constraints of the domestic space and their owners. The soft material quality of the images juxtaposed with a low tilted camera viewpoint, alters the usual perspective of the viewer to that of dogs wandering through the park.
As Tess grew older and her health started to deteriorate, running in the park came to a gradual end. According to Julia, “now instead of leading me, I lead her on slow, meandering walks, a fraction of the length that she was previously accustomed to taking.” These walks in the neighbourhood can be seen in ‘Tether’.
While going through some hardships of my own, I came across Lisa’s series ‘Vacation in Goa’. Lisa befriended a pack of free-ranging dogs at the beach in Goa, which, she tells me, happens everywhere she goes. The gentle play, strokes and relaxing company are demonstrative of the instant bond between humans and dogs. I find these images quite warm and moving.
Lisa looks at many forms of relationships in her work. At home in Sweden, she has her own dog. ‘In Bed’ explores dog-human co-sleeping, something that Lisa identifies as “crucial” for many people nowadays. Single-person households, loneliness, sleeping disorders, depression and anxiety are among the reasons why more and more people allow their dogs to get in bed. The photographs portray feelings of relaxation and calmness which close physicality with dogs can bring. Ivan, muse and participant of so many of Lisa’s projects, appears quite comfortable with four legs up, in between human legs: quite comical.
I highly admire the work of Jo, Julia and Lisa. It’s a source of wonder that has helped me to think about the world and influenced my own work with dogs.
This text was also published on Animalia Vegetalia Mineralia, a journal written in Portuguese and English dedicated to ecomedia and ecocritical studies: animaliavegetaliamineralia.org
12 June 2015 . By Marita van Rooyen
There is a proverb that honours the mythical nature of the horse. It says that nobody ever becomes tired of watching it, as long as it presents itself in preciousness.
The horse has long been admired for its grace, power and pride. But not only does this creature instil respect and admiration in its human counterparts, it also offers a reflection of those who come into contact with it. Whether calm, peaceful and confident, or nervous and fearful, the horse responds to that which is presented to it. And so, by taking a closer look at the horse and its temperament, we are reminded of who we are and of that essential connection between all living beings.
Brenda Moreno started making photographs at the age of 13, when she first discovered an SLR camera belonging to her mother under her parents’ bed. At the very moment she took her first shot she fell in love with “the sound of pictures being taken” and her curiosity was ignited.
“For a long time photography was my refuge. I set up a darkroom on the roof of my house and spent many hours there. Perhaps one of the things that excited me was to see if the pictures I took matched the ones I had imagined.”
The connection to the imagination is a personal one and Moreno’s perception of photography has been similarly solitary. “We have an inner world with its own language that, throughout life, we try to identify and express. Sometimes when I see another person’s work I feel like I’m getting to know their inner world and I can see a reflection of who he or she is.” As the camera becomes a tool of truth for the one who holds it, so it offers a form of connection and understanding between the photographer, the subject and the world.
And so Moreno started documenting what she was doing and why she was doing it, as a means to question and understand. “I think things through and I meditate on them. After a while everything begins to emerge, in no particular order, but with their necessary analytical processes.”
With all her questions – and all the answers she found – photographic workbooks came about as a natural result of this process. “The only way to organise it all was by using notebooks”.
Moreno’s workbooks bear images that might normally have been discarded – pieced together and displayed on cheap printing materials – “because it helps get some of the formalities out of the way, and that allows me to create the collages just as they come to me.” As these workbooks take on a life of their own, they develop into “their own special project”, with every image its role to play.
“The end result is the tool to speak the language, unlocking the artist’s inner world and the ability to understand their world view. The relationship you establish with the person you photograph is very important. The time you spend on each picture and the connection between each picture is all part of the process. I use analogue equipment in medium format because rolls of film reflect how much thought goes into each picture and the awareness of how the material is used.”
One of the subjects that has always enjoyed a lot of thought, and still plays a key part in her work, is the noble horse. The expansion of the pair of horses that initially joined Moreno at the time of her birth (now a large and successful family stud) runs parallel to her personal growth and development as photographer.
With a notebook on the way completely dedicated to showcase aspects of its power and grace, Moreno says, “Perhaps by portraying horses, I’m actually portraying my family. For me it is important to stay connected to nature, but also to my family. Photography is the medium through which I connect to both.”
See more of Brenda Moreno’s work here: www.brendamoreno.com
17 May 2015 . By Tristan Hooper
Nadège Mériau’s work is as intriguing as it is perplexing. The impact of her often-surreal imagery lies in the fact that at first it confuses – making you question what it is you are seeing – and in doing so it leads you to re-assess your understanding of the world around you.
I met Mériau at her home and studio in North London to talk about Petites Morts, the most recent addition to her extraordinary body of work. A work-in-progress centred around what she fondly refers to as a ‘collaboration with mushrooms’, this ambiguous series of images depicts mysterious forms and trails of what looks like light or smoke – an organic process captured visually through an interaction between naturally occurring organisms and digital technology.
Tristan Hooper: How did you initially discover the remarkable effect that’s visible in the pictures from Petites Morts?
Nadège Mériau: I guess through experimentation. I had used my flatbed scanner to make work before, because I liked the idea of combining organic materials with new technology and kind of soiling the scanner. So I had done something similar with roots and soil. I had used mushrooms in an installation, but I wanted to make photographic work as well, something two-dimensional. I took inspiration from the spore print method, which is the classic way of identifying mushrooms – you position the mushrooms upside down and they deposit their spores overnight and create a print. But through experimentation, or when I moved a mushroom by accident or didn’t position it correctly, this effect started to happen. I think maybe the spores ended up moving away from the gills. I would leave the mushrooms for over 24 hours and a lot would happen. The resulting pictures remind me of early daguerreotypes as well as sci-fi imagery.
In the statement that you sent me there’s a line that I really love – the concept of collaborative imagery. Can you elaborate on that?
Yes. I think in my practice in general, and with this particular project, my methods are increasingly experimental and collaborative. I guess I’ve always been interested in the representation of nature. I’m very aware of the tradition of still life – which in French is actually called ‘Nature Morte’ meaning ‘dead nature’ – and how you can very easily turn plants into objects – aesthetic objects – rather than representing biological processes or representing them as part of a larger ecosystem. In my project I’m trying to find a way of representing biological processes and to give the plant or organism some kind of agency. It’s almost a way of listening to the plant – it’s less predatory. But, having said that, I do collect these mushrooms and when they deposit their spores it’s almost like it’s their last breath. There is something significant about taking the mushrooms out of context and isolating them, observing them – it’s akin to the scientific approach and sometimes it almost feel like torture. And when I’m finished I dispose of them, so there is a darkness to the work.
Tell me about your experiences going out to the woods and picking the mushrooms.
To an extent it feels quite ordinary. The woods are local to me, so I just walk the dog and take some bags. But there is a part of me that doesn’t want to be seen, I don’t know why. I guess I collect a lot of mushrooms. I get excited and I now collect them depending on size and colour. As the project progresses I am getting more selective, while initially it was quite random. I got to know the areas where they grow. Picking mushrooms has become part of my daily routine. I think it’s important to say that I don’t want to know what type of mushroom I’m picking – I’m not interested in this knowledge.
Mushrooms are so interesting symbolically and in a cultural sense, there are so many contradictions surrounding them. They are a possible foodstuff but they are also potentially toxic and deadly. Then there’s the phallic shape of many mushrooms – which for some cultures represents fertility – and I guess that’s another layer to your work.
Yes, there is the sexual aspect, but then there’s also the mystical aspect – fungi is often used by shamans. In fact, when I made Mycotopia – a dwelling-like sculpture made out of hessian bags that appeared defensive from the outside and nurturing from the inside with mushrooms growing – it was interesting to see how varied the responses to the work were. Some people were actually quite scared – they found the mushrooms alien – and others found them sexual, while some just really wanted to eat them there and then. Some thought they were really beautiful – they didn’t think that they were real.
What about the title for the work – Petites Morts?
The process to me evokes the mushroom’s last breath, but it’s also kind of like an orgasm. ‘Petites Morts’ seemed a fitting title – in French it’s a term used for orgasm – but you have the word ‘Mort’ so again you’ve got this dual aspect – sex and death.
And instead of showing prints – you were thinking of showing the images in lightboxes?
Yes, as a way to refer back to the scanner. I want a glass surface that is backlit – actually something of a similar size to the scanner. I’m also thinking of showing them horizontally, perhaps with the light boxes at different levels.
So to talk about an earlier project – Au Centre de la Terre. Your work really plays with photography’s ability to show something that at first purports to be one thing, but is in fact something else entirely. Are you trying to disorientate the viewer?
Disorientate is a word I use a lot. I seek to disorientate myself when I look through the camera, and it is my intention to disorientate the viewer.
For me some of these pictures almost seem to depict nebulae or solar systems or some subterranean, geological events…
Or the inside of a volcano – it’s all quite elemental.
I think your work is interesting because it seems to forge or perpetuate a connection between the everyday and the epic and monumental.
Yes, I anchor myself in the present moment and the everyday by transcending it. The work draws on a Romantic cosmology, the blurring of the inside and the outside, the internal and the cosmic. There is the idea of being immersed in nature – being a part of it, not separate from it.
It’s interesting to see on your website the evolution in your practice – especially comparing Mise En Scène and Au Centre de la Terre. They are very different, but there’s a distinct vein running through them, connecting them. Do you think you’ll eventually return to working with people as you did in Mises En Scène?
I think I might have moved on from photographing people. I might work with parts of people in the future. But I’m not really interested in representing human beings at the moment.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I want to develop this project further. I feel that there is more to do with this, and I’ve actually started working with snails as well.
I’m just interested in engaging people with the natural world, with other organisms. We go through the same processes, it’s just life – we’re part of life, just like they are.
Please visit Nadège Mériau’s website
02 April 2015 . By João Bento
Dogs have been living with us for thousands of years and continue to do so in current post-industrial societies. They are highly valued as working animals and increasingly play an important role as loyal companions.
The role and status of dogs in society has been well documented and analysed through photography since its invention. Although, the way we look at dogs with the camera hasn’t been always the same.
Photographic pioneer, Henry Fox Talbot was one of the first to create an image of a living animal. He captured what is believed to be the dog of English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. “Flush”, the muse of the poet, was photographed asleep.
Until the second half of the 19th century it was effectively impossible to record moving subjects. When faster exposure times became available, it was a popular thing within photographic studios to make portraits of dogs, either alone, or with their owners. Usually the dog was posed in an elevated position such as sitting on a chair or another piece of furniture, while the owner rested the hand upon the dog – most likely to prevent the dog from moving. Nevertheless, the images show a great deal of affection and admiration from the part of the owners about their dogs.
In the first decades of the 20th century, Jacques-Henri Lartigue (in France) and August Sander (in Germany) made several iconic photographs. They both operated outside the studio with large format cameras.
Lartigue became best known for his sports photography. He took advantage of the new capacity to freeze fast movement with the camera. The technology also allowed him to develop his techniques and capture, for example, the rich woman walking with two dogs in the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne.
Sander was a different kind of photographer. He decided to create a rank ordered portrait collection of the German people. Among the 431 images that he made, many included dogs, like the portrait of the notary from Cologne, looking stiff and emotionless, accompanied with a menacing Doberman Pinscher.
Neither Lartigue nor Sander looked at dogs as primary subjects, however, their work is capable of demonstrating the rise of status in society and how well established they have become. By large, this kind of photography with dogs instead of about dogs, is the most common until today.
Meanwhile, the introduction of hand-held cameras and 35mm film allowed the development of photojournalism and documentary photography. In 1953, French photographer Elliott Erwitt joined the agency Magnum Photos. Erwitt established his reputation with black and white candid shots of ironic and absurd situations within everyday settings, these include countless photographs with dogs. These have a strong formalistic arrangement, with the dog being most often composed in relation to us humans. Some of his photographs were made close to the ground from a dog’s perspective, allowing a direct view into what it might be like being a dog living in our world. However, Erwitt’s images suggest a better understanding of the owners than of the dogs.
A new kind of photography leaning more toward art developed in the 70’s and 80’s. This period saw the studio re-emerging as a place for making work. Early in his career and initially working with video, William Wegman found himself sharing his space with his girlfriend’s dog, a Weimaraner called Man Ray, who’s annoying presence eventually found its way into his projects. Wegman likes to say, his images are not about dogs. He made large, anthropomorphic polaroids of Man Ray wearing human clothes and in other humourous scenes.
Also a New York based photographer at this time, Peter Hujar photographed a broad spectrum of subject matter. In the book ‘Animals and Nudes’ published after his death, the dogs that appear are portrayed with the same dignity as the nudes that accompany them, suggesting an equality. Hujar’s work must be credited for the respect with which he represented them.
Bringing us up to the end of the century to the 1990’s, Tony Mendoza depicted his girlfriend’s dog Leela at play in domestic settings. This body of work is one of the first to attempt to represent the dog as it is, in a systematic, intentional way, instead of using it as a prop, a symbol, metaphor, or just an occasional whimsical subject.
A new breed of photographers that focused on the dog has emerged in the 21st century. They have focused upon domestic animals emphasizing their unique characteristics and specific needs.
This text was also published on Animalia Vegetalia Mineralia, a journal written in Portuguese and English dedicated to ecomedia and ecocritical studies: animaliavegetaliamineralia.org
13 March 2015 . By Tristan Hooper
And so it was that I found myself tackling the London Underground at rush hour, attempting to reach The Photographer’s Gallery by 5:30 for a meeting with the Dutch photographer Charlotte Dumas. Having only seen her work on the computer screen, I was intrigued and excited at the prospect of seeing the photographs in a gallery space. After battling against a river of bodies, I found the doors locked and the gallery closed for refurbishment. Thankfully, Dumas emerged to greet me and I was allowed in to wander around the exhibition as it was being hung. The exhibition comprises two separate pieces. Prints of various sizes from her most recent series The Widest Prairies hang on the walls whilst the hypnotic Anima video plays on a loop inside a darkened chamber in the middle of the room.
Having had a very long day, Dumas was more interested in drinking beer than coffee, so we made our way to a nearby pub and sat at the bar. Considering my utter lack of experience in conducting interviews, I was delighted to find that what could easily have resembled a bungled interrogation was actually more like a pleasant and interesting conversation. Dumas articulates her ideas brilliantly and she listened patiently as I stuttered through my various reflections on her projects. She is a photographer who is so utterly involved in her practice – seemingly swept along by it. With insight and enthusiasm, she spoke to me about her work: past, present and future.
How did you come to photograph the horses at Arlington National Cemetery? How did the idea come about?
Well, I’ve been focusing on animals that work. I actually started the Arlington horse project at the same time as the 9/11 dogs project. It was my intention to do the projects simultaneously because dogs and horses are obviously the closest animals to us as people. Both animals still have important jobs.
I ended up doing the dogs first because visiting them took so much of my time. A year after the 9/11 dogs project I got the invitation to do the show at the Corcoran Gallery and things just clicked and I went back to Arlington. The idea behind these projects was that the dogs were literally going through the rubble of 9/11 right after the attacks and marking the start of a decade that changed the world. Ten years on and they are coming to the end of their lives – sort of like the closure of this decade. The Arlington horses represent the end of that decade because they are pulling all the caskets of the soldiers who have died overseas as a result of the 9/11 attack. The dogs and the horses are animal witnesses of the events. At first it was my intention to do the projects together, but then instead I did them chronologically – which actually makes sense.
The quality of the light in the Arlington pictures is ethereal. It plays a significant part in the impact of the work. How did you achieve this effect?
I like to challenge myself when it comes to light. I chose to photograph the horses at night because I wanted to capture them away from their day job and when they needed rest. The light is available light because I didn’t want to disturb them too much. I pushed my film to the max and later printed the work digitally.
When looking at the photographs from Anima, I can’t help but feel a certain sense of privilege, almost as though I’m being allowed to view an elusive, precious moment, an occurrence normally hidden from the public eye. This is especially apparent in the video. Can you speak a little about your experiences when physically making the work? How did it feel to be in such close proximity to the horses? Did it feel special?
Yes, absolutely. At first, I was just very excited. It was my aim to photograph them lying down. I would visit at all times of night. I often went at midnight, but they’re very restless animals. They lie down, they get up… So, after a while, I would go between midnight and 4 a.m. I would see them lying down and, most of the time, I would just sit there and watch, taking pictures occasionally. Then I noticed, after a number of visits, that they began to get used to my presence and they would really, literally fall asleep. Their muscles would start twitching and… to me it felt like the most intimate moment – it’s like watching your child sleep or something. It’s almost like the superlative of vulnerability, seeing an animal lose consciousness. And on top of that is the fact that they are funereal horses – it’s like they were connecting to the spirit world! Of course, these are all reflections and connotations, but I definitely felt this.
That’s also why I decided to start filming, so I could just continue watching them. The photograph part – I felt that I had done that. I thought that I would just tape it and see – I wasn’t sure if I would do anything with it. Months after that I decided to try something out and I had a small show in Holland – I mean a really small show – with an old teacher of mine and it was really nice to do something with him. Anyway, we did a small experiment and we showed the film. It motivated me to take it seriously and I went to work on it with an editor. I showed it in Paris and it got a positive response.
The video shows all of the little twitches and gestures that occur during sleep. There’s a real sense of trust – the horses don’t feel the need to stay awake and be watchful in your presence.
Yes, and that’s how it felt when I was there. It’s very meditative in a way, you lose track of time. It’s the elementary things of life that we seem not to notice and it’s those things that really matter. We all connect to that I think. The most intimate moments are like the most profound.
I guess there’s a stigma attached to photographing animals – like it’s a cliché. People seem to associate them with greeting cards and things like that…
Yes, it is like that. It’s all around us. Now I have two daughters and everything for kids is totally ‘animal this’ and ‘animal that’ and I sort of like that too, but it’s hard to fight against it. But maybe what I’m doing isn’t so different – maybe I’m doing exactly the same thing. Most people melt when they see a kitten with a ball of wool and then maybe they melt when they see horses fall asleep. Maybe it’s interchangeable…
I’m not pretending to make high art, but there is a difference in how you approach the work and the thoughts it can evoke.
It’s like our own ambivalent relationship with animals – if an artist uses an animal skin to make art, there’s a riot. As soon as it’s visible it becomes problematic, but for most of the meat industry for example, it’s hidden from sight and that’s all fine. It’s our hypocrisy about how we deal with animals. I have also tried to photograph tigers in a small circus and I remember the guy who trained the tigers didn’t really want to let me near him at first – because he was so scarred by all the animal activists, I’m sure. I personally think that animals shouldn’t be in the circus but, at the same time, I saw the relationship this man had with his animals. It’s a very complex issue. They should be in the wild, but where exactly is that? There’s a great difference between the ideal and what the situation actually is. Like when a police officer uses a horse, then it’s OK again, because it’s for the law, but horses wouldn’t naturally move towards violence, they’d run away from it. It’s all of these differences – and I think art in general is about finding these nuances and showing them, about injecting society with this sense of nuance, not simply going black and white. And that’s such an important task. I think art is an important tool that we have. An animal portrait can make you think about your relationship with that animal. And if you go one-on-one with these portraits – like the sleeping horses – the portraits reflect something of yourself, it’s almost like they are you – the portraits are more open to interpretation. If you looked at the same kind of image of a person it would be different – it would be voyeurism – looking this way at one of your own species. With animals, there’s an emotion that comes back. My work often gets this very emotional response – like with the dogs of 9/11. They offer us a way to help process what’s going on in this world. And that’s why it’s so important to have them around.
Sometimes I’m approached by an animal activist group or charity – they ask me to donate work, but I’m really careful of how I deal with that.
I feel like a journalist in a sense – I want to put some kind of story out there, to make people aware of things, but I’m not an advocate for one thing or another. That can be a little difficult sometimes. In the end, they are the other living beings on this planet and we need them to confirm our own existence. I think we get very lonely as a species – people are very cruel – we’re certainly the cruelest creatures on the planet. I really believe that having animals around – and children – keeps us empathetic. I really think the long-term consequences of not having animals around could be devastating. I’m going off the deep end a little, but they’re much more important than people realise.
Especially in the West, I have to defend myself a lot. I always find whenever I’m doing lectures or interviews, I have to have the sound bites ready – like ‘I know it’s animals, but…’ Then I have to try to place my work in a kind of contemporary art context. But, at the same time, it’s not necessary. When I was in Japan, for instance, nobody asked me why I was photographing animals. The response in Japan was immediately about what emotions the pictures evoked – nobody talked about it being weird…
Moving on to The Widest Prairies – there is something incredibly romantic about the idea of tracking wild horses across the vast landscapes of America. Can you tell me a little about your experiences making the work?
I tackle certain subjects because they’re so ingrained in our minds. I think that wild horses are one of those subjects – like sunsets or volcanoes – you don’t really want to go near. It’s like something you would see on a postcard. So how do you turn that around? We see these wild horses as symbols of freedom or unbridled expansion – things that don’t really exist anymore. Especially with the changing climate – the land is really dry and the economy in Nevada is really poor. The horses are infringed upon, but they are very rugged and resilient animals and there are many of them roaming the land which is a problem for the state of Nevada. At the same time they are the symbol of this state and very important for what they stand for. There’s a whole political war surrounding the horses. The idea of these horses coming closer and closer to civilisation is opposite to the image we have in our head from the past – stallions roaming across the plains. Now it’s stallions roaming through the back gardens of mobile homes searching for food. I think this is an interesting development, the habitat of these remaining wild animals all of a sudden overlap with that of people – I wanted to capture that. Especially after photographing the horses at Arlington, where everything was quite confined. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could work with a subject that is much harder to come near and it brought a lot of practical obstacles – like finding the horses! The Widest Prairies is more like a collective portrait than one-on-one portraiture. The images ware taken from further away and show the horses in their environment. The landscape is much more important, it’s what makes these horses wild horses. But they are wild in a way which is more like the wildness of stray dogs.
I noticed from the book – and I’m sure this was a conscious choice – that there seems to be a progression. The first images depict the horses in a wide, uninhabited landscape and as you move further into the book you see hints of human presence like buildings and vehicles and finally, in the last part of the book, the horses are in pens. I don’t want to use the word incarcerated, but they are contained, restricted. Can you talk a little about the decision to order the pictures this way?
Every once in a while a handful of these horses end up in Carson State Prison where they work with inmates. That’s actually a very positive programme in the United States in terms of incarceration. You have inmates who train the horses, they break them and then the horses are auctioned. This is a low security facility and you have guys who have never really ridden a horse before and they’re thrown in with these animals. And you can’t cheat with animals – it’s all very basic rules and intuition, and they really thrive – the guys thrive, the horses thrive. And the horses are really special, they were wild – they’re not subject to breeding programs – they’re really strong. I felt it was a really intriguing contrast, it literally shows their changing context.
Another aspect of The Wildest Prairies that I found interesting was the juxtapositions created between the horses and the vehicles and caravans, for example. In the past, horses were a mode of transport, and they pulled our wagons. I feel the pictures are indicative of our relationship with horses and indeed the evolution of that relationship.
Yeah, and the fact that the horses became obsolete, as did the cars that they’re standing in front of. All of these abandoned trailers and foreclosed homes – standing there with no purpose. I like the image of the horse in front of the trailer. It’s better in the video, I like that you can see the horse almost falling asleep in front of the trailer. There are these building blocks and it feels hopeful – like we’re going to build something – but you know that’s never going to happen. But then there’s the resilience of the animals – they just do what they do at the opportune moment. The horses don’t really care that they’re lying around in front of an old trailer.
What about your interactions with the horses? Were they wary of you? Were they aggressive?
It really depended on where you saw them. If they were more out in the open on the plains or the mountains you really had to keep your distance because it’s their territory, but as soon as they got closer to civilisation, it was easier to approach them. I found it scary at times. When it was mating season, the stallions would fight. It was a bit intimidating. They can be very unpredictable.
Do you ride horses?
I did when I was young, but I’m not very brave. When we were in Nevada, the guy we were staying with had horses and he took me on horseback over to where ‘The Misfits’ was filmed – and that I couldn’t refuse. I’d rather watch horses than be on top of them though!
I sense conflicting feelings in your work – an appreciation of the way that the horses have endured but, at the same time, an anxiety for the horses – like man is encroaching on their habitat.
For me, my work is about bringing out that nuance. Like are we infringing on them – or is it the other way round? In the end we need to coexist.
What about your interactions with people? Did you meet many people in the course of making this work?
Yes, absolutely. That’s a really big part of my work that people don’t see. I have to be very social in order to make it all happen, so it’s very much about people. And not rarely, people who feel really close to animals are not very fond of people, so it’s a real challenge. Nine times out of ten gaining the trust of the animals is not that difficult, but gaining the trust of the people around them is different. Especially with people who have chosen to turn to animals – they have done that for a reason. There’s always that thing where ‘other people can let you down, but animals can’t’, even when this might just be a notion that solely in your own head, it’s still legitimate. It may be much easier to confide in an animal than in another person. I’ve met some interesting people over the last fifteen years.
And do you think that animals are going to be an enduring interest for you, rather than people?
Yes, I think so. But, in the end, I think my work is very much about people – I just show these things through animals. In a way, it’s inexhaustible. I could maybe just spend my entire life photographing horses, because there’s so many different situations in which they appear and so many aspects worthy of investigation.
I’m going to Japan for two weeks in April and again for two weeks in the autumn. I’m doing this project together with the art director of Harpers Magazine, Stacy D. Clarkson, so we’re going to go together. There are eight native species of horse in Japan, and there are very few left – with some species, there are fifty animals or less. Some of the lowest numbers are on the Southern islands in Okinawa. My idea initially is to document them all – the project’s really about extinction. But I’m also looking at ‘logging horses’ – forestry with horses – and this happens in Japan too. That’s the reason I first went to Japan, I’d started a project on logging horses in England and was working with this really famous man who was involved in teaching forestry with horses. He had taught in Japan and I thought it would be really great to see these logging horses working in different habitats. He got me in contact with a horse logger in Nagano and that’s how I found out about the native horses there. The logging horses project is a really big project, so we’re not going to do it all at once. I think we’re going to start in the south of the country and move on from there.
My aim is to make a trilogy. Anima was about resting, The Widest Prairies was about wandering and the third one, logging horses, will be about working. I want to present them together.
Anima & The Widest Prairies are on show at The Photographer’s Gallery until April 06
The Photographers’ Gallery, 16 – 18 Ramillies St, London W1F 7LW
18 January 2015
IF YOU DON’T CARE FOR FUCKING,
YOU MIGHT AS WELL GO HOME AND DIE ALREADY
When I hear
that killer whales masturbate
it makes me wonder
They must have
some killer moves
for killer orgasms
I’m pretty sure
I don’t want
to be involved in that.
Science emphasizes procreation,
defining life through multiplication.
I guess what they’re saying
is: we all fuck
in some way or another.
Some fuck just once
Some fuck and die
Some fuck the livelong day
Some fuck for fun
Some fuck to kill
Some fuck in stacks of hay.
They say we live to procreate
they say we fuck to breed.
science cannot conclusively say
what animals do
and do not
to the lesbian elephants
mutually masturbating with their trunks
in the sunset.
to the orangutan
fondling her treebark dildo.
Tell the auto-fellating goat
we fuck to breed.
At the horse parade
one horse after the other
struts their horsey stuff
shaking their glossy manes.
The plump woman
rides the even plumper tinker horse.
Together they ride
round after round
to the sound of oohs and ahs.
When tinker turns the corner
his shockingly plump
to the sound of silenced surprise.
They say we fuck to breed.
Most of us don’t fuck all day
never even fuck
Isabella Rozendaal, 2014
Isabella Rozendaal is a writer and an established photographer. Please check Isabella’s online portfolio here: www.isabellahunts.com
17 November 2014 . By João Bento
01. Very colourful craft store song birds resting on tree branches in various natural landscapes is what American artist Paula McCartney displays in the artist book ‘Bird Watching’ from 2010.
The work deals with the idea of a constructed landscape, partly natural, partly artificial. McCartney explains, “I love going on walks and hikes. When I do that I always hear birds… Birds exist for themselves not for my entertainment, you never get a good glimpse of them, they blend with the landscape or they stand too far away. So, I decided to put fake birds exactly where I wanted them. My photographs are an idealized scene.”
02. Since its invention, birds and other animals have been great subjects of interest within photography. Until the 1870’s, it was effectively impossible to record moving subjects as photographing required long exposures due to the low speed of light sensitive materials. During this period, the most frequently photographed animals were those that could stand still: cats, dogs, horses and caged birds. Wild animals could be photographed whilst asleep, in captivity, or dead. The compositions of deceased animals were often represented as trophies, or made into still life.
In the 1850’s, John Dillwyn Llewelyn, from Wales, attempted to simulate live environments by photographing stuffed birds and mammals in a natural habitat. The taxidermy suggested a degree of authenticity to the images created and according to historian Margaret Harker, “reactions to Llewelyn’s photographs were quite fascinating. When they were brought out of the archives after many years and exhibited in the 1960’s in the Royal Photographic Society’s House, they were accepted by most viewers as photographs of live animals.” Professor Matthew Brower argues that “Llewelyn’s images can’t be understood as wildlife photography.” Brower reminds us that “in Victorian landscape photography, animal and human figures were used for compositional accent and emotional overtone.”
03. Japanese artist Yohei Kichiraku bought an old ornithological guide at a flea market. Part of the illustrations in the book had been cut-out by someone, prompting Kichiraku to make more cuttings and place them in forests and tree branches, which he then photographed. The resulting body of work, from 2012, is called ‘Birds’.
Kichiraku’s images won’t make anyone believe that they are looking at real birds. The work has essentially an aesthetic quality of beauty and seduction.
13 August 2014 . By João Bento
I believe that it was in 2008 that The British Journal of Photography featured an article which included a photograph of a colourful bird resting on the branch of a small tree. On closer inspection, it became clear that this seemingly quiet bird was in fact a fake bird. What! Photos of fake birds in the landscape, who did this? The answer – Paula McCartney.
Last year I acquired the artist’s latest book called ‘Book of Trees – Both Native and Introduced.’ I was curious, what should I expect from this – fake trees? Well, yes and no…
McCartney has always been interested in the natural landscape. Her work is either about natural landscapes or about partly natural landscapes. One of her early projects, ‘Bronx Zoo’ (1998), shows caged, exotic birds surrounded by walls painted with foreign landscapes and treescapes. More recently, the project ‘A Field Guide to Snow and Ice’ (2011), gives us an account of snow and ice formations that might not be what they seem. The work of Paula McCartney is invested with illusion and some humour too.
Humour is not particularly popular with photographers and curators. In spite of this, in ‘Book of Trees’, McCartney appears in the photographs minimally dressed like a tree – with brown trousers and green top, or brown trousers and red top (in the autumn). The wooded landscapes are accompanied by captions that absurdly describe Paula as “Evergreen”, “Deciduous Tree”, “Tree with Sapling” or “Tree with Burl”.
In the book, McCartney’s images are evenly interspaced with short texts written by Andy Sturdevant, such as:
They had a word in the old days for people that hung around forests, looking like trees. Often they were also described as being covered in bark and leaves. “Woodwose” was the best-known designation in medieval Europe for the so-called wild men of the woods. But there were types of wild ladies of the woods, too. In German, these wild ladies were called “Fange.” or “Fanke.”
Another text reads:
It is worth taking a closer look at the Victorians if we’re going to discuss people dressing as trees. A Victorian would not dress like a tree. This isn’t conjecture; it’s a pretty well documented fact. The Victorians had many opportunities to dress like trees, and passed on every single one of them.
The texts provide a broad cultural background that speaks about our changing perception of, and attitude towards, trees – through changing time and in different places. Viewed on their own, the photographs and captions confirm what we already know – McCartney is not a tree.
‘Book of Trees’ is the first time Paula McCartney appears in front of the lens. The book projects the image of the human as a failed construction, incapable of fully integrating into the natural landscape (as a tree). This raises questions about the definition of what is natural, what is a tree and what is to be human?
In the last photograph of the book, McCartney exhibits an injured arm. The caption says “Tree with Broken Limb”. Do you think McCartney really had a broken arm? I know the answer… but I am not telling you!
Please visit Paula McCartney’s website www.paulamccartney.com