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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.

"Studio Portrait of Funeral Wreath, "Charles J. Van Schaick, Wisconsin Historical Images, Wisconsin Death Trip

MWSPE Conference, Madison

This past weekend was the Midwest region’s SPE conference in Madison, WI. As usual, I went with my buddy, Dan Garza, and we saw some good talks and lots of awesome art. In the tradition of typing up my notes and thoughts about the conference, which is sometimes my sole way of keeping up with the photography community in person, links and images galore below.

 

We arrived in Madison just in time for Michael Lesy’s talk about the Keystone View stereographs. Lesy’s book, Wisconsin Death Trip, was recommended to me numerous times as a student and I recently spent some time looking back and contemplating it (this post’s featured image is one from the book). Especially after recently hearing him on a quite old episode of This American Life, I had been really looking forward to Lesy’s talk.

 

Friday, we started out with talks by Nathan Abramowski and Jason Rutter, Shreepad Joglekar, and Matt Rahner. Abramowski and Rutter shared some gorgeous photographs from their collaboration, reDiscovering the Grand, Joglekar spoke about a show he curated, and Rahner showed images from his beautiful project based in Kansas City, Eminent Domain.

After that, we made our way to MMoCA for the Alec Soth exhibition, From Here to There, where I seriously could not have spent enough time. Back at the conference, we went to Kristin Reeves‘ talk, and then trekked downtown again for the FlakPhoto Midwest Print Show. It was a wonderful exhibition, and so nice to see names from the Midwest that I recognized. From there, we walked to the Art Lofts to see the UW-Madison Undergrad Photography Show, Yours is the last house before the far-off: home, isolation, and the self.

That evening was a talk by the Featured Speaker, Andy Adams. It was so distinct, engaging, and motivating; my favorite talk of the conference. I took a lot of notes, rife with exclamation points. To wind down the night, we went to the Scholarship Show reception, book signing, and open portfolio sharing.

 

Saturday was a short day since Dan and I had decided to go to Chicago in the afternoon. We saw four scholarship winners speak–Chadric Devin, Amanda Carmer, William Knipscher, and Gregory T. Davis–all great! We went to the Members Meeting, then snuck out to hit the road.

 

The conference felt small attendance-wise and I was hoping for more archives-themed content, but I thought there was valuable programming regardless. I especially loved the exhibitions and their accessibility; I think it can sometimes be a struggle to see it all. Madison is such a pretty, fantastic city–I shared a little about the rest of my trip there on my personal blog. Until next time, SPE! New Orleans, anyone?

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Brian Lesteberg, "Raised to Hunt"

Brian Lesteberg

Last night, I got home from my trip to attend the regional SPE conference, where I spent some time thinking about past conferences and particularly portfolio walkthroughs. That’s when I remembered learning about the work of Brian Lesteberg through Kate Wimer, a great artist showing work alongside me at last year’s walkthrough in Lincoln. Lesteberg’s series, Raised to Hunt, explores a subject I’ve been interested in since first seeing the work of Erica Larsen years ago, hunting as a practice performed by young people, a family tradition. In the project, Lesteberg documents his own family’s annual hunt following the migratory birds that descend from Canada to central North Dakota. Of these photographs, Lesteberg says, “Exhausting and exhilarating, the time I spend with my father in the field has become a ritual as steady as the migrations… My photographs are witness to this ritual and its place in the layered order of the natural world” (source).

Visit artist's site: brianlesteberg.com

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Yogamaya von Hippel & Simon Bromley, "Street Pussy"

Yogamaya von Hippel & Simon Bromley, “Street Pussy”

Yogamaya von Hippel and Simon Bromley’s zine, Street Pussy, is a project aimed at documenting cats on the streets of Wales and London. Recently, the pair published their first set of zines, the initial series made up of five volumes. Each issue’s theme is a different color cat in varying positions on the streets. Accompanying the cat’s photo is an illustrated map pinpointing the location where it was seen. Since the project began in 2010, Von Hippel and Bromley have photographed nearly 700 cats. Yogamaya was kind enough to send me Volume 1, featuring pictures of tortoiseshell cats.

The zine is obviously cheeky and humorous, the name adding a certain edge that sets the project apart from the masses of cute cat pictures on the internet. But Street Pussy is an art endeavor to be taken seriously as well. The zine gives away little information (the map is just a line drawing, with no street names or descriptive features), denoting that the cats pictured could be anywhere–strays–or anyone’s–pets on the loose–out-of-doors for any number of reasons. And the photos aren’t just snapshots of cute cats; Von Hippel and Bromley keep fundamentals of photography and famous street photographers in mind while composing their pictures. It’s a fun and productive project for those of us who enjoy taking pictures of other people’s animals we see in our day-to-day life. I hope to keep up with the next volumes, set to feature kitties of the black, ginger, black and white, and tabby varieties.

Follow along with the Street Pussy images at streetpussy.tumblr.com or get a copy of the zine in the Etsy shop.

Visit artist's site: streetpussy.tumblr.com

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Brandon Hall, "Museums of Unnatural History"

Brandon Hall

When I first saw Brandon Hall’s natural history museum pictures, I was highly intrigued, and not only because I had just booked my own trip to the diorama destination of my dreams where Hall’s pictures are made, New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Hall’s diorama pictures, which are made by double exposure, are about duality. On a personal level, the images portray Hall’s “dualism of the mind;” he had just relocated to New York City and his thoughts were never focused on his physical whereabouts. The doubling and flipping of the taxidermy animals is a literal representation of how Hall was feeling in his new space. He says, “I was one person but at the same time there were two different sides of me at play.” Regarding the dioramas themselves, the dualities described are between life and death, representation and caricature, natural and unnatural. The pictures created are quite unique, fascinating, and disorienting to look at.

Visit artist's site: brandonmichaelhallphotography.com

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Tytia Habing, "Blue Bird"

Tytia Habing

The first time I scrolled through Tytia Habing’s pictures, I couldn’t help but smile. The photos, from her series, The Gift, are of various flora and fauna held with an understood respect and admiration in the storied, textured hands of people of all ages. Habing’s pictures represent the miraculous act of physically interacting with nature in such a sweet, familiar way.

From the artist’s statement: Ever since I can remember, I’ve been taught to love nature. I was encouraged to explore the land we lived on, to walk through woods and wander through meadows, to treat the earth gently and respect my fellow creatures. The smallest of animals are of import, and even weeds have purpose. I now teach my son the same, that this beautiful earth is a gift we’ve all been given and it’s our job to be good stewards, not only for us, but for future generations. My hope is that these photographs reflect the love I hold for nature, and the importance of even the smallest of creatures and the most nondescript of plants.

See Habing’s many other fantastic projects on her sleek new website, designed using a Squarespace subscription awarded to her by Feature Shoot.

On that note, Feature Shoot’s current call for submissions is “photos of the zoo,” judged by me. Submit by October 17 for the chance to win a one-year Squarespace subscription, as well as your photo/s on the Feature Shoot website and promoted through their social media channels.

Visit artist's site: tytiahabing.com

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Yusuke Sakai, "Reticulatad Giraffe"

Yusuke Sakai

Yusuke Sakai’s Skin depicts the close-up surface of animals’ fur, feathers, and skin. Rich with detail, the images show an aspect of each animal unable to be appreciated from a greater distance. The color and natural patterns and textures are astounding and mesmerizing. Upon first glance, the series made me think of the work of Oscar Citutat and Linda Kuo. I’d love to have one piece from Skin, large, or a grid of many in my home.

From the artist’s statement, via LensCulture: Once, I unexpectedly discovered a photograph of an elephant’s abdomen. I couldn’t figure out how this photo was taken or why it moved me so much, but I could tell that it gave me a wonderful feeling. The impression it left on me was unmistakable. In looking at that photograph, I felt like I was seeing the skin of an elephant for the first time, while simultaneously, I knew that the sight of the skin was deeply familiar.

In this series, I photographed various animals which caught my eye at the zoo. Each of these animals interested me for their own reasons: for some, I was taken by their form or movement, others their size or strange proportions. In the end, I found that each animal was a unique assemblage of all these qualities. Although the animals fascinated me in many different ways, I decided (in homage to that elephant abdomen I had once seen) to concentrate only on each animals’ skin. By reducing the animal in time and space to a still, two-dimensional (but deeply textured) photograph, I hope that the viewer will look as if for the first time and re-discover the animals’ beauty in a new way.

Visit artist's site: sakaiyusuke.com

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Lindsay Blatt, "Herd In Iceland"

Lindsay Blatt

Lindsay Blatt is the director of the film Herd in Iceland, a documentary about the annual round-up of the Icelandic horse, isolated for centuries by the country’s oceanic borders. The film and the photo essay and accompanies it provide a beautiful look into this amazing tradition and focus on the stories of the people as well as the animals.

From the film’s synopsis: Herd in Iceland was filmed over the course of 2 years, when Lindsay Blatt traveled to Iceland to document the herders as they collected their horses across the island’s remote terrain. During the summer months, the horses live a wild existence, grazing in the highlands and raising their young. Each fall, they are rounded up by local farmers and directed across the stunning landscape. This valued tradition is a social and cultural touchstone for both the farmers who own the horses and the city dwellers who travel to the countryside to participate.
 
The horse holds a precious place in Icelandic culture, art and tradition; for over 1,000 years Icelandic law has prohibited the importation of horses onto the island. By telling the story of this annual journey, Herd in Iceland captures the symbolism behind the horses and the nation they represent.

Herd in Iceland has just started to air on some PBS stations around the US. Check the schedule or keep an eye out for it! View the film’s trailer here.

Visit artist's site: lindsayblatt.com

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Clare Benson, "The Shepherd's Daughter"

Clare Benson

I first saw the work of Clare Benson at an SPE conference back in 2011, and I’ve been keeping up with her since. A recent series of hers that I love is The Shepherd’s Daughter, which explores the ritual of hunting through her connection with her former hunting guide father. After the death of her mother when Benson was twelve years old, her father’s taxidermy trophy collection began to grow exponentially. Benson’s photographs depict a curiosity about mortality in a unique way. In her statement, she writes, “Growing up amidst the hunting culture of northern Michigan, I learned to see the ritual of hunting as a way for humans to connect with and conquer untamed nature; it is a ritual that speaks to notions of mortality and the interconnectedness of life within a larger system.”

Clare Benson has been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for the 2014/2015 academic year and will be traveling to northern Sweden where she will live and work amongst astronomers, hunters and reindeer herders. I look forward to seeing what she produces next.

Visit artist's site: clarebenson.com

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Jaime Johnson, "Untamed"

Jaime Johnson

Jaime Johnson’s photography struck me as soon as I saw it. Her tea-stained cyanotypes depict a female bone collector, foraging the woods, fields, streams, swamps, and riverbeds for pieces of an entire skeleton. The images feature particular animals not commonly seen in dead animal art, such as large snakes and alligators. Their presence in the series makes the story even more primitive and mysterious. Johnson’s photographs are gritty, dark, and beautiful, sometimes arrestingly so.

From the artist’s statement: “The sole work of La Loba is the collecting of bones… Her cave is filled with the bones of all manner of desert creatures: the deer, the rattlesnake, the crow. But her specialty is wolves. She creeps and crawls and sifts through the montañas, mountains, and arroyos, dry riverbeds, looking for wolf bones, and when she has assembled an entire skeleton, when the last bone is in place and the beautiful white sculpture of the creature is laid out before her, she sits by the first and thinks about what song she will sing” (Estés 25).

“Untamed” depicts a feral woman who is both collector and constructor as she gathers fragments to preserve that which is in danger of being lost to the world. The wild woman character is a strong woman who roams, rebuilds, collects, adorns, and celebrates natural phenomenon that has been forgotten.  The feral woman embodies a return to the most basic principles, supporting Thoreau’s notion to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

Visit artist's site: jaimejphotography.com

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Martin Hill, "Synergy"

Martin Hill

I imagine it is difficult to make environmental art of this type without being compared to Andy Goldsworthy. However, I believe Martin Hill’s work is quite unique. Since 1992 and often in collaboration with Philippa Jones, Hill has focused his art practice on “making environmental sculptures in nature that return to nature.” The photographs are all that remain of the environmental sculptures, which are often visually simple but complex to create, as well as powerful and emotive. Placement, movement or lack thereof, footprints and evidence of the artist’s role in the creation–everything is intentional and sensitive to timing and nature’s own will. A repeating motif in Hill’s work is the circle, which I find beautiful both visually and symbolically.

There is a short documentary available online which shows some of the sculptures in one project, the Watershed Project, being made. View it here.

From the artist’s statement: For me making this body of work is my way of connecting with nature to tell the story of the transition that is underway now towards a circular economy that emulates the way nature works. Nature is sustainable by design. Fuelled by sunlight everything is recycled: all waste becomes food for something else. In the new circular economy businesses and social systems are designed with principles learned from natural systems. Innovations using what is available locally run on renewable energy in cooperative relationships with one another, these cyclical systems eliminate waste and deliver multiple benefits and jobs. They out compete existing harmful models making them obsolete. What has art got to do with this? Changing to a new model of progress that does not destroy the living world on which life relies, requires us to use a new way of thinking. I believe art can help trigger this change and inspire us to look at problems as opportunities for innovation from which multiple beneficial outcomes increase wellbeing for all.

Visit artist's site: martin-hill.com

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