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.
© Laura Bell
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.
Photo from ‘The Alba Series’ © Laura Bell
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.
Photo from ‘The Alba Series’ © Laura Bell
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.
Photo from the series ‘The Long, Sad Season’ © Laura Bell
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.
Photo from the series ‘The Long, Sad Season’ © Laura Bell
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
08 January 2013
We recently talked with Spanish photographer Alberto Salván Zulueta about two of his most recent projects, ‘Views’ and ‘Bushes’. We asked him about his thoughts on the divide between Man and Nature that is evident in his work.
Fauna & Flora: How did you get started in photography and how have your interests changed over time?
Alberto Salván Zulueta: I started with photography’s intrinsic capacity for analysing what is in front of it. In my early work the aesthetic result was the main concern. But for some years now I have been interested mainly in exploring the medium of photography itself and what society thinks and feels about it.
Diptych from the series ‘Views’ © Alberto Salván Zulueta
F&F: Your project ‘Views’ looks at a duality in Japanese culture. On one side we have Japanese urban housing and on the other is “constructed nature” which is a tradition in Japan and reflects very much its culture and philosophy. Even in the “urban pictures” there is always the presence of nature. Would you say that this is a way culture has found to replace traditional relationships with the natural environment? And can you explain a little about the process of making this project and how you settled on a strategy to use?
ASZ: I believe that, in Japan, nature is an element that is deeply rooted in the culture. They have a very different understanding of it from those of us in the West, for example. Nature, and how we relate to it, affects every aspect of their culture you can think of – religion, culture, the arts, cuisine, folklore…
When I was visiting Japan and wondering how I could put together a project around these ideas, I was torn between making work about nature – so respected, worshipped and present in society – or about the city – frenetic, labyrinthine, exhaustive yet, at the same time, in almost every corner silent and even peaceful. It seemed an odd contrast.
Besides nature’s manifestation of exuberance and “happiness”, evident in some places where it is able to develop freely and in peace, we can also find it loved and cared for in any corner, even within the city, where it grows shyly but persistently. I have studied and admired Japanese etchings and other works of art, culture and folklore, etc. In all of them, in different ways – whether obvious or discreet – nature was present and in some way was always a main element.
In Europe’s art and religion we have always had references to nature, but these have always been symbolic references linked to the usefulness of nature to Man. In the Renaissance, for example in the work of Fra Angelico or Patinir, the landscape or natural world begins to gain importance within the artworks. This development is even more marked in the subjective and sublime landscapes of Romantic painting. Nevertheless, such representations are always connected to utilitarian, anthropocentric perceptions of nature.
Looking at classic Japanese etchings, nature is always a central element. Even so, the images always play with that humanity/nature relationship. In the celebrated artworks known as ‘Views’ (showing paths, cities, landscapes…) there is always a human presence and there is always a presence of nature. Regardless of who or what the principle subject is, the pairing of human with the natural world is a constant. Nature (the original habitat) and the city (the habitat created by Man) are in every way dependent on, and necessary for, each other.
In these etchings I observed that this duality is approached robustly, to the extent of using a “formula” that imposes nature or its elements through graphic or synthetic elements. Doing so, however, doesn’t take away from the human point of view, it highlights the action – or the unique trace – of nature.
From this idea I started to think about the idea of diptychs: transforming two images into one. A good way to show the rupture between nature and the city, between the original, and essential, habitat and any other. It can illustrate the synthesis of a culture that remains equidistant between tradition and modernity. I wanted to show, in a physical way, the collision or conflict between those two aspects, between the natural and the urban. This conflict is very much present also in the local inhabitants. These contradictions and their outward signs are largely responsible for shaping the attitudes and positions of the people that outside agents, like ourselves, reduce to citizen and culture.
Perhaps I wanted to look at the changes of roles in today’s society which relate to nature and to the city, which are in any case dependent on each other.
F&F: In the project you did in 2010 ‘Bushes’ there is somehow an analysis of the morphology of different bushes. What led you to do this project?
ASZ: The project ‘Bushes’ is an aesthetic approach to details in nature that are usually overlooked because they don’t have any “anthropological value”. In this case, I use photography (or “art”) as a tool to reconsider and analyse our environment.
Through photography, the subject is raised and accorded “anthropocentric value” – both physically (as a reality) and aesthetically (as an image, a formal configuration).
Photo from the series ‘Bushes’ © Alberto Salván Zulueta
F&F: What are you working on at the moment?
ASZ: I have been working on something for more than a year. I am manipulating images and trying different ways of doing it. I am hoping to avoid unifying the series in a thematic way, as I have been doing with other work until now. I am using images that I have made in different environments. I still have a lot of work ahead of me. I am very slow at developing my projects.
Alberto Salván Zulueta’s Website: www.abandonedrealities.com
02 January 2013
We are very happy to tell you that the booklet ‘Monument’, by Dutch artist Mariken Wessels, is now available in the Fauna & Flora Library. The booklet is a beautiful object, one of the nicest we have ever seen. We always handle it very carefully and we have shown it to just about everyone. But what is there to see, exactly? Well, inside a translucent sheet you will find an A3 folded cover containing three papers with text by Basje Boer, combining prose and poetry. Along with this are fourteen loose, A3 colour prints of flowering plants photographed close up. They are photographed outdoors (and maybe indoors?) using available light. The plants are photographed from different points of view – sometimes against the sky and looking heroic, sometimes pictured against a rock as background. The differences between the images are many. You see flowers that are about to blossom, flowers dying and others that are already dead. You can feel the seasons change… In addition, the images have been significantly manipulated, altered in experimental ways that change the original, material qualities of the plants. It looks like Mariken has carried out all sorts of experiments with filters and inks. These experiments give the images a decisive force that seduces the viewer, forcing us to engage with the flowers and think about them in different ways. While preparing this text, we laid the fourteen photos out on the floor and they form a fantastic garden! And, just as the seasons change, this garden will transform and fade away as the photos are put back into their soft cover and the translucent sheet. And then the garden blossoms once more when we uncover the pictures again to look at the beautiful ‘Monument’ that Mariken Wessels has created. Thank you Mariken.
All photos © Mariken Wessels
We invite you all to see Mariken Wessels’ project ‘Monument’. It is available to be consulted in our library: www.faunaandflora.org/library/
You can see other works by Mariken on her personal website: www.marikenwessels.com
18 December 2012
Exclusively for Fauna & Flora, David Chancellor has listed some of his favourite photobooks.
“I draw inspiration from many books, and miss them hugely whilst I’m away. Without doubt, currently my favourite is ‘Bagara’ by Ed van der Elsken. It was given to me by the designer Victor Levie that I worked with on ‘Hunters’ in Amsterdam. I am also extremely interested in the work of Peter Beard, his books ‘End of the Game’ and ‘Longing for Darkness’. David Goldblatt… his earlier work is extraordinary. I am currently looking at ‘Some Afrikaaners Revisited’ and ‘Photographs’. (I also like) Roger Ballen’s ‘Outland’, ‘River of No Return’ by Laura McPhee, ‘Dead Eagle Trail’ by Jane Hilton, Joel Sternfeld’s ‘Oxbow Archive’ and many others.”
- David Chancellor
Fallen giraffe, from the series ‘Hunted’. © David Chancellor
Schilt Publishing has recently published the book ‘Hunters’ by David Chancellor. The book is a compilation of much of David’s extensive work about the hunting industry in Africa.
The book can be consulted at Fauna & Flora Library: www.faunaandflora.org/library/
See more of his work on his personal website: www.davidchancellor.com
15 December 2012
“You see, I believe something goes wrong with Man when he cuts himself off from the natural world. I think he knows it, and this is why he keeps gardens and window boxes, and house plants, and dogs and cats and budgerigars.”
18 December 1965
in ‘The Animal Anthology’, 1967
All photos © Owen Harvey
Owen Harvey’s ‘Caged Living’ acts as a set of reflections on the simplest of human-animal relations. The flesh that unites us, in its indistinguishable texture and colour, appears as a powerful reminder of our shared condition. The confrontations of two images (Harvey calls them “couplets”) emphasise the absurdities of our relationships with other animals, and this seems to me to be a very effective strategy for introducing the subject. Although the rest of Harvey’s photographic work does not concentrate on the animal subject entirely, I must say this short essay is very successful for its vitality and sensibility.
Owen Harvey’s website: driveaway.tumblr.com
16 November 2012
We showed the work of photographer Andrew Bruce to the illustrator L Filipe dos Santos (also known as Corcoise). We asked Filipe to have a think about the black and white fox picture that Andrew has on his website (www.brucebruce.co.uk) and , as a result, he created a new illustration based on it.
You can see more work by L Filipe dos Santos at corcoise.blogspot.com and corcoisefolio.com
15 October 2012
We are proud to announce the first ever Fauna & Flora curated exhibition Nemini Parco by Spanish photographer Jesus Monterde.
The exhibition will take place at Fauna & Flora Gallery (Newport, Wales) from Thursday 8th of November 2012 to Friday 14th of December 2012.
Visits are to be arranged with the curators, by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 07722048686.
Details about the exhibition here.
© Jesus Monterde
09 October 2012
Wout Berger was born in the Netherlands in 1941. He has more than a dozen books to his name and has had more than 50 exhibitions (although only three of these were in the UK).
He has been working in the same way since the mid-80s, looking down at and photographing surreal and unexpected landscapes in botanically hostile sites. Botanical elements in contaminated land were the subject of his project ‘Poisoned Landscapes’, for which he visited chemical waste dumps. He also photographed seed plantations and wild flowers on housing development and construction sites for his project ‘Ruigord’.
‘Like Birds’ was published in 2009 by Galerie van Kranendonk (ISBN: 978-90-72697-09-7) and it brings together a series of images consistent with Wout Berger’s beliefs and attitudes. He believes that we are driven upwards or downwards in a fluid motion like a bird in flight, coming very close to the earth at times, but also flying high. The details in the images are riveting and the book consumes both our time and our attention. ‘Like Birds’ is relatively difficult to find in the UK. We received it as a gift and we want to share it with you.
You can watch the video in High Definition on our Vimeo website: vimeo.com/like_birds
26 September 2012
All photos © Chris Shaw
We contacted Chris Shaw to find out more about his project Weeds of Wallasey. We found the relationship between the images and the captions in his work to be very interesting. Every photograph has a short statement or title written directly inside the frame. This allows us to have a closer insight into the photographer’s mind and intentions. His response to our message was, “Weeds are us”.
Chris Shaw’s full project Weeds of Wallasey can be seen online here: beforeandafternightporter.com/weeds_of_wallasey
Words and photographs by Alexander Norton . 21 September 2012
© Alexander Norton
I went to meet someone in Sweden. She was interning there and we had been speaking on Skype quite frequently. I was awkward. I wanted to photograph her but I was nervous, and we were wary of each other.
We met up in the mornings and talked about cultural food differences. The table where we were eating became our main subject. There was a great plant on the table which was very vibrant when I photographed it with flash. Every morning when I woke up, I saw a different set of flowers on the plant. They were constantly changing, going up and down in positivity and negativity as they struggled with age.
I think that nature gave us an excuse to talk, a way to avoid what had been confronted in the beginning. We were shy and unconfident.
The flowers on the pot-plant was, for me, the equivalent of looking around and spending time on your own, mentally in this case. The photos I made were not a direct contact with her, but were my way of trying to understand the position I was in, and how I felt.
© Alexander Norton
© Alexander Norton
© Alexander Norton
© Alexander Norton
Alexander Norton’s full project Quietus can be seen online here: cargocollective.com/alexandernorton