01 February 2014 . By Tristan Hooper
The Congo has long been in the public eye. For many years, the mainstream media has spread images of genocide, famine and human rights violations to audiences the world over. Yet, despite the extent of reportage, the situation in the Congo endures as being somewhat enigmatic.
Driven to explore some of its hidden mysteries, Irish photographer Richard Mosse took the opportunity to make a number of trips to the country. Over a three-year period he captured the Congolese and the vast landscape that they inhabit. But whilst Mosse’s pictures could certainly be described as war photographs, they are rather unlike what one usually sees in contemporary conflict photography.
Mosse elected to make use of a discontinued form of infrared film for his work in Infra. Originally designed for use in aerial surveillance by the military, this specialised film was made to render camouflage useless. Natural vegetation and foliage – normally visible to the human eye in various shades of luscious green – are instead depicted in tones of magenta, verging on the psychedelic. The overall effect is quite startling; the images are both striking and curious.
These large-scale landscape photographs depict the region in a way that one feels to be looking upon some kind of alien terrain. A facile interpretation could perhaps relate the colour to that of a landscape stained with the bloodshed resulting from years of conflict. But perhaps we should look beyond the obvious and consider the more subtle possibilities inherent in Mosse’s Infra.
His decision to use this particular film is of real interest – not only because of its unique effect, but also because of its original intended purpose: designed to make the invisible visible, to show what is normally obscured and hidden from view. In employing this military technology, Mosse is perhaps attempting to peel away some of the ambiguity surrounding the region and its troubled history – in turn helping us to view the Congo differently.
The strange colour palette coerces the viewer into pondering the natural landscape – it places emphasis on the topography and fertile nature of the country. An interesting perspective as the Congo is home to an incredible glut of precious natural resources, attributes arguably at the root of the country’s problems. Despite the vast quantities of uranium, rubber and copper present in the region – providing the possibility of establishing the Congo as one of the world’s wealthiest nations – these reserves have only contributed to the state of unbalance.
Another captivating aspect is how many of the photographs depicting people within the landscape seem to perpetuate a divide between the inhabitants and the land. Often the Congolese appear at odds with the landscape, almost as if superimposed upon it.
Infra represents a potent and pronounced departure from the norms of photography concerned with war. It has often been commented that war photographs have contributed to what is known as ‘compassion fatigue’. Pictures depicting the horrors of conflict are so readily available that people have ceased to be affected by them. We are all only too familiar with the black and white reportage spawned from the Vietnam War, and more recent colour photographs from the Gulf and Afghanistan.
Mosse’s photographs demand attention; they show us something new, something to arouse our curiosity.
02 July 2013
“The boy was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea
From the other end of the hallway a rhythm was generating
Another boy was sliding up the hallway
He merged perfectly with the hallway,
He merged perfectly, the mirror in the hallway
The boy looked at Johnny, Johnny wanted to run,
but the movie kept moving as planned
The boy took Johnny, he pushed him against the locker,
He drove it in, he drove it home, he drove it deep in Johnny
The boy disappeared, Johnny fell on his knees,
started crashing his head against the locker,
started crashing his head against the locker,
started laughing hysterically
When suddenly Johnny gets the feeling he’s being surrounded by
horses, horses, horses, horses
coming in in all directions
white shining silver studs with their nose in flames,
He saw horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses.
Do you know how to pony like bony maroney
Do you know how to twist, well it goes like this, it goes like this
Baby mash potato, do the alligator, do the alligator
And you twist the twister like your baby sister
I want your baby sister, give me your baby sister, dig your baby sister
Rise up on her knees, do the sweet pea, do the sweet pee pee,
Roll down on her back, got to lose control, got to lose control,
Got to lose control and then you take control,
Then you’re rolled down on your back and you like it like that,
Like it like that, like it like that, like it like that,
Then you do the watusi, yeah do the watusi
Life is filled with holes, Johnny’s laying there, his sperm coffin
Angel looks down at him and says, “Oh, pretty boy,
Can’t you show me nothing but surrender ?”
Johnny gets up, takes off his leather jacket,
Taped to his chest there’s the answer,
You got pen knives and jack knives and
Switchblades preferred, switchblades preferred
Then he cries, then he screams, saying
Life is full of pain, I’m cruisin’ through my brain
And I fill my nose with snow and go Rimbaud,
Go Rimbaud, go Rimbaud,
And go Johnny go, and do the watusi, oh do the watusi
There’s a little place, a place called space
It’s a pretty little place, it’s across the tracks,
Across the tracks and the name of the place is you like it like that,
You like it like that, you like it like that, you like it like that,
And the name of the band is the
Twistelettes, Twistelettes, Twistelettes, Twistelettes,
Twistelettes, Twistelettes, Twistelettes, Twistelettes
Baby calm down, better calm down,
In the night, in the eye of the forest
There’s a mare black and shining with yellow hair,
I put my fingers through her silken hair and found a stair,
I didn’t waste time, I just walked right up and saw that
up there — there is a sea
up there — there is a sea
up there — there is a sea
the sea’s the possibility
There is no land but the land
(up there is just a sea of possibilities)
There is no sea but the sea
(up there is a wall of possibilities)
There is no keeper but the key
(up there there are several walls of possibilities)
Except for one who seizes possibilities, one who seizes possibilities.
I seize the first possibility, is the sea around me
I was standing there with my legs spread like a sailor
(in a sea of possibilities) I felt his hand on my knee
(on the screen)
And I looked at Johnny and handed him a branch of cold flame
(in the heart of man)
The waves were coming in like Arabian stallions
Gradually lapping into sea horses
He picked up the blade and he pressed it against his smooth throat
And let it deep in
Dip in to the sea, to the sea of possibilities
It started hardening
Dip in to the sea, to the sea of possibilities
It started hardening in my hand
And I felt the arrows of desire
I put my hand inside his cranium, oh we had such a brainiac-amour
But no more, no more, I gotta move from my mind to the area
(go Rimbaud go Rimbaud go Rimbaud)
And go Johnny go and do the watusi,
Yeah do the watusi, do the watusi …
Shined open coiled snakes white and shiny twirling and encircling
Our lives are now entwined, we will fall yes we’re together twining
Your nerves, your mane of the black shining horse
And my fingers all entwined through the air,
I could feel it, it was the hair going through my fingers,
(I feel it I feel it I feel it I feel it)
The hairs were like wires going through my body
I I that’s how I
that’s how I
(at that Tower of Babel they knew what they were after)
(they knew what they were after)
[Everything on the current] moved up
I tried to stop it, but it was too warm, too unbelievably smooth,
Like playing in the sea, in the sea of possibility, the possibility
Was a blade, a shiny blade, I hold the key to the sea of possibilities
There’s no land but the land
looked at my hands, and there’s a red stream
that went streaming through the sands like fingers,
like arteries, like fingers
(how much fits between the eyes of a horse?)
He lay, pressing it against his throat (your eyes)
He opened his throat (your eyes)
His vocal chords started shooting like (of a horse) mad pituitary glands
The scream he made (and my heart) was so high (my heart) pitched that nobody heard,
No one heard that cry,
No one heard (Johnny) the butterfly flapping in his throat,
Nobody heard, he was on that bed, it was like a sea of jelly,
And so he seized the first
(his vocal chords shot up)
(like mad pituitary glands)
It was a black tube, he felt himself disintegrate
(there is nothing happening at all)
and go inside the black tube, so when he looked out into the steep
saw this sweet young thing (Fender one)
Humping on the parking meter, leaning on the parking meter
In the sheets
there was a man
to the simple
Rock & roll
Lyrics from the song ‘Horses’ written by Patty Smith, from the album ‘Horses’ (1975).
To see more photographs by German artist Alexandra Vogt please visit her website: www.alexandravogt.de
24 June 2013
I photographed ‘Tohoku’ between 2009 and 2012.
At the same time I photographed ‘Kuragari’.
I stayed at a friend’s home.
He lives in Tohoku, in the Iwate prefecture, in Kamaishi.
One day after dinner,
He asked me,
“Have you ever seen a deer at night?”
After that we ran around the mountain by car.
But we couldn’t see them.
He said “time to call it a night and go home”.
We saw two deer watching us in the dark.
And they walked way, just like that.
I know that this darkness hasn’t changed since ancient times.
(Tatsuki Masaru, 2013)
You can also see ‘Tohoku’ on Tatsuki Masaru’s website: tatsukimasaru.com/tohoku/
15 May 2013
The Portuguese music duo Will and Dia-Sim have written a new song, ‘Old Paper Print’ to celebrate the 1st anniversary of Fauna & Flora. We are very happy and proud of this collaboration. Last summer we saw Will and Dia-Sim playing live in Vila Ruiva, in an intimate venue, and we were amazed by their music. We can’t wait for their first tour in the UK!
Lyrics: Will / Dia-Sim
Performed by: Dia-Sim
The sun is in debt to the rain
My camera collects too much grain
At night there’s no moon
It’s all foggy and dark
I sink in my room and I open my ark
And I watch one by one
My old trees my old sun
My old pictures in old celluloid
And old paper print holding time
Holding seas holding tides
Holding birds dropping food in their nests
Old paper print holding skies
Holding dust holding clouds
And the cat rolling out on the grass
I hang all these prints on the walls
(sort them by spring, winter, summer and fall)
from the floor to the ceiling I cover them all
and it feels like I’m surrounded by nature’s grand show/ old paper print holding…
02 May 2013
On the 23rd of October 2012, fine art photographer Jo Longhurst (winner of The Grange Prize 2012) gave a talk at the Manchester Museum. Her talk was called ‘What a Dog Might Tell Us: On Photography, Perfectibility, and the Aesthetics of Breed’. It was part of a bigger event, the exhibition ‘Breed: The British & their Dogs’ which also took place at the museum. Jo Longhurst’s presentation was introduced by writer and art historian Carol Mavor.
Fauna & Flora went to Manchester and filmed Jo’s exceptional presentation.
13 April 2013 . By João Bento
I am in love with Julia Schlosser’s series ‘Inflict’ which shows parts of her body with small injuries made by her pets (mostly cats, I presume.) It is a very simple project that was made using a cheap device, – a home scanner – and I find it aesthetically engaging and it has lots of depth.
The photographs from ‘Inflict’ activate many memories from my own childhood. When I was about six or seven years old I used to go out and play on the street with my friends. We would move around looking for anything interesting to do. Very often we would discover little kittens. Some had escaped from the litter and got lost, others had been dumped by someone who already had too many cats. I took many of those cats – maybe ten – to the small apartment where I lived with my parents. I do not remember them living with us for a long time, most likely they were given to someone who could take better care of them. I really enjoyed having cats at home. I was an only child for a long time, I was often bored and the cats were “something fun to play with”. The injuries that we can observe in Julia Schlosser’s photos are familiar to me. I did too many things to those cats. I gave them a bath, I taped their paws, I tried to make them friends with my hamsters (that did not end well!), etc. Poor cats, I regret many things I did to them. They were right to inflict injuries on me.
Please visit Julia Schlosser’s website: juliaaschlosser.wordpress.com
06 March 2013
Mike and Doug Starn are identical twins and American artists born in 1961. Their work deals conceptually with photography and they are concerned largely with ideas of chaos, interconnections, time and physics. According to Demetrio Paparoni, who wrote the critical text ‘Tree of Life’ (in the book ‘Attracted to Light’ by Doug and Mike Starn), the Starn twins, like Renaissance artists, consider art to be an instrument to know the world and this view implies a relationship between Art and Science.
‘Attracted to Light’ (published as a book in 2004) is a series of photographs of winged nocturnal insects – moths – that, in the context of the work, serve as a metaphor for a reflection of light. For the Starns, light is everything: “light is power, knowledge, it is want we want, it is what we need, it is satisfaction, fulfilment, truth and purity.” They see the moth’s attraction to light (phototropism) as a spiritual quest that all of us might undertake at some point in our lives: “we are all moths.”
‘Attracted to Light’ is part of a larger group of artworks called ‘Absorption of Light’ that was exhibited in Stockholm in 2005. The exhibition, featuring eight monumental photographs, was illuminated by a single, blinding, carbon arc lamp of about 45,000 watts raised 13-foot in the air. This radical installation format emphasizes the importance of light in the Starns’ work. Light not only becomes part of the work itself, but it is also the central piece, allowing (or demanding) the photographs to orbit around it as the planets orbit around the sun. The photographs and the lamp become one colossal homage to the existence of light.
The two moth portraits in the exhibition are vivid – and disconcerting so – by virtue of their monumental scale. The scale allows us, together with the immersive artificial light, to see ourselves existing in the moths’ scale. This uncanny effect is exalted by the tactility of the Thai Mulberry paper the photographs have been printed on, the texture of which is reminiscent of the texture of a moth’s wing, extremely fragile and dusty. The fragility of the art objects and of the insects reminds us in equal measure that light can be divine but also mortal.
Mike and Doug Starn’s website: www.starnstudio.com
18 February 2013
E. O. Wilson is one of the foremost biologists of our time and he draws our attention to the little things that rule the world.
As an entomologist, he makes links between the insects and the endangered fauna and flora of our planet. He points out that, if insects were to become extinct, the environment on Earth would quickly fall into chaos, resulting from the extinction of the unpollenated plants.
Whereas people need insects to survive, insects don’t need people.
If the human race were to disappear, it would be highly unlikely that any species of insects would become extinct, with the exception of three kinds of louse that survive only on the human head and body.
It’s a curious fact that the total number of ants on the planet could be as many as 10 thousand billion, and they weigh almost the same as 6.5 thousand million human beings.
And, E.O. Wilson ponders, does anyone believe that these tiny creatures only exist to occupy space?
Catherine Chalmers : ‘The Leafcutters’
Catherine Chalmers is a self-confessed admirer of Edward O. Wilson’s studies about ants. ‘The Leafcutters’ is the name of her new project about the leafcutter ants, genera Atta colombica.
The leafcutting ants, such as the Atta, cut and harvest the live plant material that is the basis of their diet. Millions of workers inhabit huge subterranean nest structures with hundreds of interconnected fungus garden chambers. The harvesting process is only possible by means of cooperation and division of labour among the individuals. Leaves are cut by some workers and dropped to the ground for further fragmentation. This material is then transported into the nest by other workers where it is taken to the garden chambers to decompose. Catherine Chalmers’ photographs look at this complex behaviour in an aesthetic away.
Her photographs are divided into four groups: ‘Antworks in Progress’, ‘Antworks’, ‘Offerings’ and ‘War’. The photographs from ‘Offerings’ (some of which we are showing here with this post) are well-lit, close-up shots of ants transporting fragments of plants, photographed against a white background. Captured this way, we can fully admire the body of the ants – their physical prowess! – and observe with detail the interesting and beautiful vegetation they carry.
Chalmers made five trips to Central America between 2007 and 2012 to photograph and film the Atta. The result is a multimedia piece that comprises photographs, videos, drawings and sculptures. Her work premiered last summer at DeNovo Gallery in Idaho and it is currently being shown at Imago Galleries in California.
Catherine Chalmers’ exhibition catalogue, printed by DeNovo Gallery, can be consulted at Fauna & Flora Library: faunaandflora.org/library/
You can see more of Catherine Chalmers’ work on her website: catherinechalmers.com/
Ilda Teresa Castro is an artist and researcher in Film, Art & Ecology and Ecocritical Studies. You can find part of her work on the website ildateresacastro.wordpress.com Ilda is also the founder and editor of Animalia Vegetalia Mineralia, an Ecomedia & Ecocritical Journal and Research Platform.
04 February 2013
‘Silence of Breath’ was shot in a summer evening at Fuji Safari Park in Japan. Mountains such as Fuji are so large that they create their own weather. According to Yoko Naito, “near Mount Fuji there is often a very strange weather – I could not see five meters ahead of me because of the very thick fog”. This is probably what separates Yoko’s images from other images of animals – the intense fog that helps to create an unreal scenario. The creatures are peaceful yet assertive, they appear to be aware of the strange, silent fog and seem to be waiting for it to clear away.
“I could hear the breath from the animals
They won’t say anything to us.
They stare at us in the silence of breath”
The artificiality of the habitat Yoko photographed, the safari and the fog on that summer evening, make us aware of the unfeeling eyes of the creatures, a sensation that does not leave us until the last picture. The title refers to something not immediately visual – the breath – and this makes us think about our other senses and, certainly, it changes the way we see the thick fog. Because of this title, we can feel and hear the breathing of the big mammals and imagine the fog as an extension of their existence.
Yoko Naito is a Japanese photographer based in New York. Amongst other things, she is concerned with concepts of landscape and nature.
Yoko Naito’s Website: www.yokonaito.com
08 January 2013
Laura Bell is a North-American photographer, interested in subjects that have been central in Arts History since Pre-Historical times, when art was above all, an artefact.
The Still Life, The Vanitas (with it’s ancestor Arts Moriendi, from the medieval culture), The Memento Mori, meditations on life and death, the Landscape and the single Portrait are constant in her projects.
The work of Laura Bell has a strong connexion to Flemish Painting in the 16th and 17th century, where objects, nature and light have a symbolic meaning. In Bell’s photographs, Nature is one of the means to express life as an ephemeral, transitory and mysterious phenomenon.
Symbols are a way to communicate; they are signs of abstraction in a complicated world. In the history of western paiting, we can find several of Bell’s signs: the skull, the cadelabro, the feather and the glass. These coexist, together with many other as quotations but also as individual metaphors and interesting objects in ‘The Alba Series’, one of Laura Bell’s projects.
She continues to develop her work further, and keeps her website always up to date. We urge you to take a look.
Fauna & Flora: We are very interested in your use of natural elements. Can you tell us a bit more about this? You separate these elements from their usual environment and relocate them. Why?
Laura Bell: The natural world has always had a big influence on my work. I attribute this partially to my childhood, growing up in rural West Virginia. My father is a scientist who spent a lot of time teaching me about the scientific classification of plants and animals as a child. One of my favourite activities was cataloguing the insect species in local streams and rivers. I learned that the presence of certain insects would directly correlate to the water’s quality. A stream that was heavily polluted would contain more or less of a particular insect than a “healthy” stream. Although my photography is not scientific in nature, I believe these early childhood experiences have informed the content of my work as an adult. I also think that my tendency to remove “natural elements” from their environment is in some way related to the practice of scientific study. For instance, I may take a moth that I’ve found and place it on top of a table to photograph it. This, in a sense, is my way of studying this insect. I’m studying this moth not for the purpose of scientific understanding, but for its less tangible, evocative qualities.
F&F: You use the animal skull as a reference to the use of the human skull in European painting in the 16th century. Does this have a special meaning for you? What is it you want to express when you “replace” a human skull with an animal skull?
LB: I was not trying to communicate anything specific in regard to the “replacement” of the human skull with a deer skull. For me, this image is reconciling two things: my desire to literally look at this roe deer skull (an object I found in a field outside Edinburgh) and my fascination with Scottish history. This image, like most of the still life work from the ‘Alba’ series, is a kind of hybrid between object documentation and historical symbolism.
F&F: In this specific photograph the use of light is very different from the previous tenebrous approach. Can you tell us why you chose to do that?
LB: My first attempt at this image was more akin to the momento mori approach – dark, moody lighting, with the skull resting on a dirty table. However, I found that the image wasn’t communicating my intent. I was interested in referencing the momento mori paintings to evoke a certain period in history, but not necessarily to communicate their symbolic content. I wasn’t interested in reminding humanity of its mortality – what I was trying to do was far less grand. So, in my second attempt at this image, I decided to go completely against the momento mori approach in terms of lighting and tone. The final photograph, with the skull brightly lit, sitting atop a flowered tablecloth and doily, is a much more effective image.
F&F: It is interesting to understand the references you make to art history, but it is even more interesting for us to interpret those moments when you try to distance your work from that strong reference. For example, one of these moments could be the introduction of insects into your photographs. Insects are rarely depicted in painting. Can you explain what motivates you to photograph them?
LB: The answer to this question may be disappointingly simple. I photograph objects or things that interest me. Take for example, the photograph ‘Moth Specimens’. As you point out, insects are not a common theme in the history of painting. Insects were depicted within still life paintings, but were rarely the main subject. However, I didn’t really take this into account when I made this photograph. I was fascinated by these moths (called five-spot burnets) that I found living in abundance in a field near my flat. They were beautiful, like little red jewels in the grasses of the field. I wanted to use them in a photograph. I didn’t really consider that this deviated from the tradition I was referencing.
F&F: You often use the table to show, or display, the subjects. The table is a man-made object. Does this means something specific to you?
LB: I think the use of a table puts the objects within a plausible context. In my experience, people generally accept an image of an object on a table. The table is the traditional stage for a still life to be “displayed”. If I were to see a still life arrangement on a bed, for instance, I would certainly first notice the bed and then the still life. I would ask the artist why they made a still life on a bed, and not consider the still life itself very critically. Also, I feel the table signifies human interaction with the object. When I see an image of an object on a table, I am aware that the object was placed there. If an object is presented in a void (say, just a black background), the image would read in an entirely different way.
F&F: How would you characterise your landscapes?
LB: When I make landscapes, I am generally trying to illustrate what a place feels like rather than what it looks like. Taking this approach into account, my landscape work tends to be slightly removed from reality or leaning towards the sublime. The circular format is something I developed fairly recently in my landscape work. What appeals to me about this format is how it changes the reading of the image. The circle narrows the image area, creating a “telescoping” effect. I think this really communicates that you are being shown a particular view. All photographs do this, of course, but the audience is not reminded of it so explicitly with the traditional rectangular format.
F&F: ‘The Long, Sad Season’ is a series about the mutability of nature. Nature changes everyday and, paradoxically when we look at the winter images in ‘The Long, Sad Season’, it seems that winter is so strong and confident that we get the feeling that it is going to remain like that, cold and white, forever. Winter seems an obvious choice for your work, which tends to be melancholic and meditative. Do you agree?
LB: I do agree! Ironically, I hate being cold and can’t stand winter. I’m willing to put myself through torture to get a good image, though.
Laura Bell’s Website: lbellphoto.com