Fauna & Flora is an online space for discussion about the world of living things and photography. It has been created by João Bento and Catarina Fontoura.
The Origin of Fauna & Flora
By João Bento | 15 April 2012
In 2007 I moved to Newport in South Wales to begin a photography course.
In Newport, I went to live in a house where one of the residents was a pet dog. Her name was Izzy and she was a black Labrador. She was kind and outgoing. Later that year I moved to a new home where I had the company of two Jack Russells. One of them, George, was stubborn and aggressive. On one occasion he bit my foot. Why?
I did not know much about dog behaviour. Until I moved to Wales I had never lived with dogs. Where I come from in Portugal, most dogs live on the streets in a semi-wild state while a fair number of dogs live close to humans as working animals. Only a few live as companions as part of people’s domestic lives. In the UK the situation is completely different. In Wales, according to the Blue Cross, one third of the population has a dog as a pet. Wow!
Then I came across a poem that shed some light on my recent experience:
“French-kissing my dog melts my troubles away
As if dog spelled backwards has something to say
What works for me will work for you
Get rid of the zanax and prozac too.
Why pay the therapist all that dough?
When it’s the magical doggies we really owe.”
(Excerpt from ‘I French Kiss my Dog’, by Gail Glassman. In ‘Urban Dog’, 2004)
After that I stopped seeing dogs exclusively as working animals or pets. They could be something more. Best friend, lover, an occasional companion. Clearly, George wasn’t a good companion.
In my photography course I changed my attention to the subject of animals. I discovered the work of other animal photographers: Keith Arnatt’s ‘Walking the Dog’, a project about dog walkers!; ‘Grounded’ by Helen Sear, where animals’ backs are shown as fantastic landscapes; ‘Familiar British Wildlife’ by Clive Landen, which looks at road-kill and urban development in the UK; Jo Longhurst’s ‘The Refusal’, a project that looks at our quest for perfection and our intrinsic bond with animals.
In recent years there has been a growing interest in the animal world as a primary photographic subject. Some projects of undisputed quality have acquired international recognition, like ‘The Hyena and Other Men’ by Pieter Hugo in 2005 and, more recently, ‘Paloma al aire’ from Ricardo Cases in 2011.
Fauna & Flora brings together all of these recent experiences, from the feisty Jack Russell to Ricardo Cases’ project. Fauna & Flora is an online space for discussion about the world of living things and photography. Together with my colleague, Catarina Fontoura, I will be showing projects covering a range of photographic styles and presenting work that deals with different animal issues. We aim to widen the discussion about animals in photography, in order to improve our understanding of the animal world and, ultimately, to support a positive change in our own lives and the lives of other creatures.
By developing this project I can clearly say that I feel myself a better animal.
© João Bento
Photographing Plants and Other Creatures
By Catarina Fontoura | 15 April 2012
“The true matrix of human life is the greensward covering mother earth.” – from ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird.
Can anyone say they have never felt any emotional response when near a tree or a bush, never had the slightest compassion for a weed?
For some, art and in our specific case, photography, is a medium which helps to compensate for the unbearable communication barrier that exists between human and non-human living beings, a barrier created by our fixation with our own sentient and rational skills.
The study of plant sensitivity that developed in the 1970s, initiated by Cleve Backster, led to the concept of Primary Perception. The basis of this concept is that plants can sense an unimaginable number of things, including people’s thoughts, intentions and feelings. They can feel each other’s comfort or pain, and, significantly, they can sense with extreme accuracy the end of another life form close to them.
Backster’s research also gave scientific support to the Non-Time-Consuming communication theories which have been present in Eastern Philosophies for hundreds of years. Easter Philosophies have also been a great source of inspiration for western and eastern photographers in the last decade.
These theories propose that there is in fact a force of life; that there is a natural balance to the universe, and if that balance gets upset someplace, you can’t wait a hundred light-years for the imbalance to be detected and corrected. This non-time-consuming communication, this oneness amongst all living things, could be the answer.
In this and future entries, Fauna & Flora aims to consider those photographic works which are attuned to living things and to ask why, in a world of photography dominated by a focus on human life, some photographers choose to look the other way, the non-human way.
Consciously or unconsciously these photographic works are contributing for a new attitude towards nature and life, and indicating new paths for respectful behavior towards the natural world even if not necessarily connected strictly with ecological guidelines. They are proposing changes trough aesthetical motivations.
Thomas Nagel wrote an essay called ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ Where he thinks about the limits of “comprehensive imagination”:
“It will not help to try to imagine that one has webbing on one’s arms, which enables one to fly around at dusk and dawn catching insects in one’s mouth (…) I am restricted to the resources of my own mind.”
Coetzee has a much simpler approach to the comprehensive imagination of other life forms. Through his famous, fictional character Elizabeth Costello, he tells us that to be a living bat is to be full of life, that to be completely a bat is like being completely a human, which is also full of life. For Costello there are absolutely no limits to our ability to imagine and even to feel the essence of another being. So, this being the case, there might be nothing easier than to imagine what it is like to be a plant, or a bat, or a rat or any other living creature. We hope that this elementary thought helps us directing our research and our personal work.
© Catarina Fontoura