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MH is a blog and archive featuring artists who are interested in the ways in which humans interact with and experience animals and nature.

Jana Lange, "Anima"

Jana Lange

Jana Lange’s Anima is a series about the being–the human being and the animal being. Lange states that the project is “a rethinking in the way we perceive animals and in the way we perceive ourselves in the world (as being a small part of the world).” She also writes, “I try to see the animal as an animal and to understand me as being part of its reality. I am also seen and perceived by the animal in its own way.”

Lange also has an ongoing project called Once Upon a Time, which explores the origin of the relationship between human and animal, specifically, humans and wolves. Instigated after a three-month visit to a wolf science center in Austria, the series aims to delve into our deep shared history. I am excited to see the group of images develop.

From Lange’s statement on Once Upon a Time: The wolf is an animal that has inspired our imagination like no other. Countless legends, myths and fairy tales revolve around wolves. In many parts of the world, wolves were persecuted to extinction. It is worth noting however that in former times wolves became man’s best friend. Next to humans, wolves once had the largest natural geographical range of all mammalian species. The wolf triggers both fear and fascination at the same time. Indigenous people have worshiped him as a totem, as the origin of human existence. Wolves were admired and revered for their strength, their courage and their clever way of hunting. In ancient times, the Romans considered them as symbols of sacrifice and motherhood. Indeed, it was a wolf who raised the city‘s two founders Romulus and Remus.

However, later in the Middle Ages farmers regarded wolves as wild beasts. For the privileged they became highly coveted trophies. Later they became the epitome of an unspoiled life in an untouched nature. The wolf as a beacon of hope. Wherever he enters, nature seems to be intact. For more than 60,000 years humans and wolves lived together. A shared history from which the dogs finally evolved. They became constant companions of man. They have influenced our culture, they live in our culture, they live in our family, they became part of our family.

Visit artist's site: janalange.com

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Jason DeMarte, "Pink Placebo"

Jason DeMarte

Today I’m posting some work that I was exposed to years ago but that I didn’t think of featuring here until recently. I learned about Jason DeMarte’s series, Utopic, in a photography class in 2009, and I couldn’t quite figure it out. I remember thinking about this work a lot; I was attracted to the pictures because many of them were made in my beloved Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and I chose DeMarte to give a short presentation about. His images are off-putting and often very bizarre (other pictures in the series I’m posting here are diptychs drawing comparisons between museum taxidermy and processed food, or feature cheese puffs and fried chicken hovering around diorama spaces). Now, after spending so much time the past few years looking at and thinking about photography that explores the role of animals in the human world, I feel differently. We look at the animal/natural world as a product to be sold to us. The experience is processed, commercial, and consumer-driven.

From the artist’s statement: My work investigates how our modern day interpretation of the natural world compares to the way we approach our immediate consumer environment. I am interested in the American modes of representing the natural world through events and objects that have been fabricated or taken out of context. This unnatural experience of the so-called “natural” world is reflected in the way we, as modern consumers, ingest products.  What becomes clear is that the closer we come to mimicking the natural world, the further away we separate ourselves from it. I work digitally, combining images of fabricated and artificial flora and fauna with commercially produced and processed products. I look at how these seemingly unrelated and absurd groupings and composites begin to address attitudes and understandings of the contemporary experience. I represent the natural world through completely unnatural elements to speak metaphorically and symbolically of our mental separation from what is “real,” and compare and contrast this with the consumer world we surround ourselves with as a consequence.

Visit artist's site: jasondemarte.com

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Lisa Adams, "Twister"

Lisa Adams

Lisa Adams’ paintings are surreal and ominous; grand and foreboding. I am overwhelmed when I look at her pieces, which, even on a computer screen, seem huge. Adams is self-taught and spends six days per week working on her paintings in her isolated studio in Queensland, Australia. The sense of isolation is apparent in her works.

Visit artist's site: lisaadamspaintingsaustralia.tumblr.com

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Maija Astikainen, "One-Dog Policy"

Maija Astikainen

Over the weekend, I visited a wildlife center that’s home to big cats, birds, and all kinds of reptiles. I took a tour of the center, which isn’t necessarily run by wildlife professionals, and I couldn’t help noticing each time an animal was anthropomorphized by my guide. Commonly, we ascribe to animals human qualities so that we can try to better understand the actions of the creatures share the planet with. Maija Astikainen’s series, One-Dog Policy, titled as such in reference to countries like China where a one-dog policy is enforced in addition to their one-child policy (source), explores this humanization of pets in photos. Even when an animal is acting, emoting, or posing as a human would, we cannot know what it is thinking or feeling, and we cannot assign to it our own interpretations. That is important to remember.

From the artist’s statement: Dogs are the most common pets and they are often seen and treated more like one of the family members than animals. I’m interested in anthropomorphism, the habit of adding human characteristics to animals. The gestures of dogs are easily misinterpreted. They look guilty to us when they have done something wrong, and they seem to be laughing when something good is happening. The series of portraits was shot in Helsinki and Madrid during the years 2010-2014. The project is ongoing.

Visit artist's site: maijaastikainen.com

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Francesca Todde, "Francesca Todde, "Constellation of Galapagos""

Francesca Todde

Francesca Todde has an array of animal-focused photography projects. Two that stand out to me are Dioramas and Constellations. Her images of dioramas at the Natural History Museum of Milan are wide and with a prominent vignette, giving the scenes a feel that is at the same time whimsical and convincing. Some of the pictures are made from an angle that feels cinematic, and in the case of the bears and seagulls photo particularly, I have to remind myself that I’m looking at a diorama and not a dark, dramatic vision of the wild.

Todde’s Constellations series is unlike anything I have seen before. The images are digital collages made from vintage books about animals, and they are both nostalgic and fresh. They reference one of the many ways animals are incorporated in society, which Todd details in her statement.

From the artist’s statement: The relation between nature and culture has played an important role in art through the centuries: we have sought the shape of the animals in the constellations, we have represented them in the paintings of the prehistoric caves, we used them as mirrors to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of our moral behavior in fairy tales, we use them as symbols even today in trademarks of our companies, from car industry to footwear. In my research I explore what remains today of the ancestral relation with the animals, how they survive in images in our overcrowded cities, who are the people who still maintain a relationship of close contact with animals, such as what kind of answers can today give the animals if you put them the question of a different relationship with the man. I think that looking at this relationship, studying the animal kingdom, the natural behaviors and social structures of animals, ultimately accepting our primary need of interdependence with other natural species, we have the possibility to find new truths about our society and get in touch with the deepest part of ourselves.

Visit artist's site: francescatodde.com

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Kevin Barton, "Twin Monkeys"

Kevin Barton

My favorite type of animal-concerned photography lately is broad, subtle, and a little bit funny (and, as always, square and with stark compositions). I saw some of these images by Kevin Barton at the SPE conference in Baltimore and, although zoo photography seems to be appearing all over lately, I thought this was a refreshing take on the subject. The style of the images reminds me of a body of work I love, David Politzer’s When You’re Out There.

From the artist’s statement: “Zoo” is part of a larger body of work exploring aspects of our culture engaging in what I like to describe as “prescribed happiness.” I am fascinated by spaces, rituals, events, and activities where one’s enjoyment is dictated and strictly enforced rather than left up to individuals to experience on their own terms… I can’t help staring at these aspects of our culture that, despite our better judgment, spend a tremendous amount of energy screaming at us in forceful reassurance that we are having a great time and we love it here.

Visit artist's site: kevinbartonphoto.com

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Mike Whiteley, "Wildlife"

Mike Whiteley

Giant outdoor retail stores like Cabela’s and Bass Pro are rife with photographic opportunities if you’re interested in hunting culture or taxidermy. Mike Whiteley’s black and white photos of the bizarre scenes in places like these are a humorous but also sad comment on this odd way of experiencing wildlife. My favorite images are those featuring background scraps of text like “pizza,” or impossible combinations of animals for the sake of saving space. The attempted illusion that all of these animals exist together is a bit too ridiculous to believe, even if it is only in a section or along the edges of the store.

From the artist’s statement: Wildlife is important out here in the west. It has been written about, painted, sculpted, and photographed. For as long as people have been here, the wildlife has had an important place in our society. It has been studied, worshiped, feared, and slaughtered. In a modern society, our relationship with it has become more complex. Its existence is now often determined by governments influenced by big money, large corporations, and other organizations. No longer is much of it really wild but exists in small, controlled areas. There are less and less places that are not touched by man.

Somehow, though, we still feel that wildlife is sacred, so much so that even after we kill it for sport, we stuff and mount it and put it on display… We seem to think that we need to control them as if somehow nature doesn’t know what it is doing. In various places in the west, I find displays of these stuffed game animals, interesting enough a lot of them seem to be in stores that sell guns that you need to kill them in the first place. What we are left with are pictures that display a strange contradiction between life and death, real and unreal.

Visit artist's site: mikewhiteleyart.com

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Isabella Rozendaal, "On Loving Animals"

Isabella Rozendaal

Having featured a few months ago Isabella Rozendaal’s Isabella Hunts, which is a broad and growing project worth looking at again, I am a big fan of her work. An older project of hers that I admire is On Loving Animals, an exploration of the sometimes touching and often bizarre ways that humans express their love for their animals. The artist states that the aim of the project is “to show how the animals are part of our lives, and how we project our own needs onto these beasts” (source). The human relationship with non-human animals is complex, and I appreciate Rozendaal’s lack of reservation showing many aspects of this complicated exchange.

Visit artist's site: isabellarozendaal.com

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Camille Marie Bieber, "Chimères"

Camille Marie Bieber

Camille Marie Bieber’s photographs depict the merging of humans and nature. In her series, Chimères, Bieber reflects on her nostalgia for the feeling of peace she had in the forests of Scandinavia or along the Baltic Sea. To me, the images portray the boundaries between the man-made and untouched nature, and being in one place while longing for another.

Visit artist's site: camillemariebieber.com

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Sara Munari, "Dolphins Sleep with their Eyes Open"

Sara Munari

The way we use representations of animals in advertisements, for entertainment, as decoration, really everywhere in daily life has always been interesting to me. This is what Sara Munari explores in her series of diptychs–”a representation in the representation: who is alive and who is fake looks fake to seem alive.” The artist pairs images of animals in captivity with various likenesses of them found within the same spaces. The symmetry in the pieces is thoughtful, the dull colors symbolic, the meaning striking.

From the artist’s statement (translated by Google; forgive errors): Every day through the media and advertising we are fueled by emotions fictitious performing their function purifying and giving complete solution to our real lives, but the rules of the game are understood and accepted by actors and spectators: it’s fiction. None of these animals for the show will never end, under the eyes distracted by people walking through the bars of the cages and glass, expecting to see an event, so it was worth it to pay a ticket. A Big Brother fee. Grande is nonsense then the reproduction (photography, sculpture, paper), always within the parks, the animals themselves. Where the animal is missing or holed up to evade the human curiosity, here is the puppet that takes over , the cup, the granite statue of the animal that is only representation.

Visit artist's site: saramunari.it

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