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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.

"Amelia & The Animals" cover image, "Lorenzo" (2011)

Robin Schwartz’s “Amelia & The Animals”

I was so happy to receive my copy of Robin Schwartz’s new book, Amelia & The Animals, in the mail earlier this week. The moment I first saw Robin’s work, I was completely enamored. She has remained one of my absolute favorite photography artists ever since. Robin began making the Amelia and animals photographs over a decade ago. I have been drawn to the series again and again over the past few years, never ceasing to draw inspiration from the beautiful, moving images of Amelia interacting with various kinds of exotic (or simply exotic-looking) animals.

Robin’s pictures illustrate so many pertinent themes, from the connection between humans and animals to the innocence and curiosity of children to the feminine presence in the natural world. Something about the photographs that always catches my attention is Amelia’s calm expression and gentle demeanor. Even as a small child (the earliest photos in the book picture Amelia at age 3), it is apparent that Amelia understood the reverence in her experiences with animals, often collaborating and now working on the photographs as a partner with her mother. She is never seen provoking the animals or even screaming in delight as other children might, but instead appears as a tiny woman connecting with the creatures’ souls in a saintlike way. Zimmerli Art Museum curator Donna Gustafson writes in the book’s essay, “these photographs whisper of lost intimacies and half-remembered myths.” Perhaps it’s the “palpable sense of loss” that Gustafson mentions, loss of a relationship between humans and animals, that I pick up on in Amelia’s graceful composure. As she ages throughout the book, Amelia becomes a wise, elegant shepherd of animals. I find myself forgetting the girl in the pictures is a high schooler.

It’s interesting to me now to look back on the images I selected for a post about Robin in 2010. I’ve looked at a lot of photography that explores, documents, analyzes, or criticizes the way humans today experience animals and nature, and although my tastes and opinions have evolved, Robin’s work continues to fascinate me. I relate so closely to not only the young girl Amelia featured in the photographs, but also the adult woman participant, Robin, to whom investing in the lives of individual animals and their caretakers and creating meaningful experiences and artwork with her daughter is so important, she has made it a deep part of her life. Below are a few images from the book, as well as some pictures I made of my copy. Amelia & The Animals is available from Aperture. View the Kickstarter campaign that helped make the book possible here.

Visit artist's site: robinschwartz.net

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M. Alexis Pike, "A Teton—St. Anthony Idaho"

M. Alexis Pike

Another artist whose worked I learned about from Blue Sky Books is M. Alexis Pike. Her series, Claimed: Landscape, documents scenes of nature that have been painted onto buildings, houses, and vehicles in Idaho, where she grew up. Pike’s images explore the balance of the spectacular and the mundane, highlighting the way idyllic nature literally overlaps conventional structures in the American West. The depictions of majestic wilderness on the exterior walls of bars, cafes, convenience stores, apartment buildings, and garages are often chipped and faded, representing the nostalgia for “a Western landscape that was part of the grand package of the Western American dream” (source).

From the artist’s statement: As a sixth generation Idahoan, the landscape of the West influences my work, it’s part of my personal and cultural history, it is the geography of my genes. I grew up in two very distinct areas of Idaho: the scenic area of Stanley Basin—which sits at the base of the Sawtooth Mountain Range—and the town of Idaho Falls—a community that revolves around agriculture, religion and nuclear power. Living in these two regions gave me the perspective to appreciate the delicate balance of the scenic and the mundane and recognize how they overlap one another. I am exploring in this work the way communities and individuals stake claims on the picturesque landscape and place it within the conventional structures of the community. By making a photograph of these claimed territories, I am staking my own claim to my heritage, the landscape.  The manner in which we depict this scenery has become the identity and perception of the American West, symbolized by wilderness, mountain peaks, crystal clear rivers, and big game animals.  This is the mythology of the West.

Visit artist's site: alexispike.com

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"You pressed a finger to his head by want writing a neck in the hands of people"

Kuraya Takashi

Kuraya Takashi’s Pets is a series of images of “missing pet” posters in Tokyo. The photographs depict the aged and distressed quality of the postings, the paper often water damaged, torn, and taped, and the image of the missing pet pixelated or otherwise distorted as a result of the elements. This worn quality itself is a sad reminder to those viewing the posters, either passing by on the streets of Tokyo or as a part of this series, of the pain felt over the loss of a beloved pet.

Using Google Translate, text from the posters is translated to English, then translated again back to Japanese. These now strange, garbled sentences are used as captions for the pictures. The act of photographing a photograph and running words written by caring pet-owners through multiple translations creates an off-putting effect. My reaction to the images is initially sadness and sympathy, then discomfort once I read the nonsensical text. It feels like I have intruded on something I thought I knew but cannot understand.

Visit artist's site: kurayatakashi.com

Found via: Feature Shoot

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Dillon Marsh, "Invasive Species"

Dillon Marsh

Last year, I posted Dillon Marsh’s pictures cataloging telephone poles that have been taken over and transformed by massive birds’ nests in the Kalahari Desert. Similar in style is another of Marsh’s projects, Invasive Species. In this series, Marsh photographs some of the cell phone towers disguised as trees that exist in Cape Town, South Africa. Bizarre and humorous to see in person, the ridiculous fake trees are even more laughable in a whole collection. They are isolated and centered in square compositions, drawing even more attention to the fact that they obviously don’t fit in in the natural landscape.

From the artist’s statement: In 1996 a palm tree appeared almost overnight in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. This was supposedly one of the world’s first ever disguised cell phone tower. Since then these trees have spread across the city, the country and the rest of the world. “Invasive Species” explores the relationship between the environment and the disguised towers of Cape Town and its surrounds.

Visit artist's site: dillonmarsh.com

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Allen Maertz, "Chimpanzee"

Allen Maertz

I discovered the work of Allen Maertz when perusing some of the monographic books recently published by Blue Sky Gallery, the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts. In Encyclopedia, Maertz focuses on the “political and cultural influences that construct modern perceptions of knowledge and experience.” The series, made up of nearly 150 images, is like a catalog of the various places people can visit to learn about science, history, art, and world cultures. The low-contrast/low-saturation quality of the pictures is reminiscent of the encyclopedia books that children of previous generations will remember frequenting at the library, now likely being replaced by digital and internet-based programs. Maertz also includes in the series several time-lapse videos that show wide views of museum spaces and tourist attractions in nature.

This fall, Blue Sky simultaneously published 36 books by 36 photographers that the gallery has exhibited over the last four decades. Available only online as print-on-demand publications, each monograph features a previously unpublished series of photographs seen on Blue Sky’s walls and is notably affordable, about one quarter the price of most photo books today. Encyclopedia is available as a soft cover book on the Blue Sky Books website.

Visit artist's site: allenmaertz.com

Found via: Lenscratch

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Tamara Staples, "The Magnificent Chicken"

Tamara Staples

As a lover and appreciator of all types of birds, I find it irritating when people say they don’t like birds, that they find them creepy or gross. Tamara Staples’ portraits of fabulous, elegant chickens help to give this bird the positive attention it deserves. In the same manner that fancy pigeons are often photographed, Staples presents a variety of chickens seemingly posing before her with magnificence, drama, and grace. The pictures are breathtakingly beautiful, with perfect lighting and rich, textured backgrounds.

Ancient breeds of the chicken have been placed as early as 3000 BC, and it is thanks to a passionate group of breeders that many of these breeds continue to thrive. Staples has also made portraits of chicken breeders, and her respect for the care and passion of the practice is evident in each of her images.

Visit artist's site: tamarastaples.com

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António Pedrosa, "Nelson Cristeta loosing his pack of hunting dogs in the beginning of the hunt"

António Pedrosa

In The Pose and the Prey, António Pedrosa documented the daily lives of Portuguese hunters. For several months, he photographed the deer, wild boar, and foxes he saw being hunted at popular hunting and private hunting estates; wealthy and middle class hunters; meat hunters and trophy hunters; those who live from hunting and those who see it as a hobby for a few weekends during the year. Pedrosa captured a variety of aspects of a hunt, often showing the graphic yet mundane moments of an age-old practice.

From the artist’s statement: Hunting in my imagination was always more like taxidermy — as if the prey was just a mere accessory of the hunter’s pose for his heroic photograph — the real trophy. When I decided to document the daily lives of Portuguese hunters, I had in my memory the “cliché” from the photographer José Augusto da Cunha Moraes, captured during a hippopotamus hunt in the River Zaire, Angola, and published in 1882 in the album Africa Occidental. The white hunter posed at the center of the photograph, with his rifle, surrounded by the local tribe. It was with this cliché in mind that I went to Alentejo, south of Portugal, in search of the contemporary hunters.

I was lucky, I heard lots of hunting stories. I found an essentially old male population, where young people are a minority. Hunters, a threatened species by aging and loss of economic power caused by the crisis in the South of Europe. The result of this project is this series of contemporary images, distant from the “cliche” of 1882.

Visit artist's site: antoniopedrosa.com

Found via: LensCulture

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Patricia Van de Camp, "My Own Wilderness"

Patricia Van de Camp

Patricia Van de Camp is interested in nature and the lost harmony between human beings and animals. Her images playfully communicate themes of intimacy, vulnerability, and death. In her recent project, My Own Wilderness, Van de Camp makes reference to an old hunting technique, blinding animals with a spotlight. As in the “deer in the headlights” idiom, the animals are standing as statues in the strong light, making them more easily captured by hunters.

From the artist’s statement: In the images… the animals are greeted and admired instead of being harmed. The central theme of “My Own Wilderness” is the loss of intimacy between human beings and animals. The images do have an alienating effect because the deer and the rabbits are not alive anymore; they are stuffed. They are honored by bringing them back into their natural environment and being photographed as if they were still alive.

Visit artist's site: patriciavandecamp.nl

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The Brain Scoop

The Brain Scoop

Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to see Emily Graslie of The Brain Scoop speak at KU. I’ve been following The Brain Scoop for a long time, actually, since before it was The Brain Scoop. When Emily was working at (and almost single-handedly running, as a volunteer) the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum at the University of Montana, she started a Tumblr blog in order to create awareness and publicity for the specimen collection on the campus of the college where she had been a student. In early 2013, Emily debuted her first episode of The Brain Scoop, an educational YouTube channel that explores the behind-the-scenes work of natural history museums. It wasn’t long before Emily’s endeavor gained attention; six months later, she was hired as the Chief Curiosity Correspondent by the Field Museum in Chicago and continues to host The Brain Scoop from there.

In late 2012, I  was drawn to Emily’s Tumblr as a person who studied photography and was trying to find a way to tie image-making and an interest in animals together in a career, struggling with whether or not to pursue graduate school for museum studies, library science, or something else. Emily had recently finished her BFA in painting at the University of Montana and was then working on a masters in museum studies (she’s put this degree on hold since beginning work at the Field Museum). Emily has been an inspiration to me and many others–a question I always hear asked of her is how she was able to enter the field of science with an art background.

Over the past two years, I’ve started this post again and again, waiting for a break in achievements for The Brain Scoop to make a post detailing them all.  Well, that break hasn’t come yet, but attending Emily’s talk at KU gives me a good point to jump in. Both in her talk and in her videos, Emily speaks with authenticity, enthusiasm, and humor. I don’t spend much time elsewhere on YouTube and I can’t weigh in on the genre of educational videos overall, but The Brain Scoop’s definitely stand out. And it’s not just for the videos’ subject matter, which can include material that does indeed call for a “grossometer,” but for the heart and creativity that goes into them. There are currently 100 videos uploaded, the most popular being Where My Ladies At?, about women in science and sexism in the field and in which Emily reads actual comments left on The Brain Scoop’s videos. Yikes.

Some other posts/videos that have caught my attention:

An assessment of the state of the museum where Emily worked prior to the Field Museum
Recommended reading
When Emily was written about early on by Robert Krulwich
When Emily was featured recently by Cosmopolitan (seriously!)
The morality of preserving found animals versus giving them a burial instead
Emily’s response (and video response) to the NPR article, “Is Collecting Animals For Science A Noble Mission Or A Threat?”

If you’re at all interested in animals, natural history museums, specimen preparation, or entertaining and educational YouTube videos, I guarantee you’ll enjoy The Brain Scoop. Find it on YouTube and Tumblr.

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Sarah Stankey, "Dichotomy"

Sarah Stankey

If you’re a reader of Lenscratch (as you should be!), you’ll recognize Sarah Stankey’s name; she has worked as an exhibition editor and contributing writer there since 2011. It’s through Lenscratch that I discovered Sarah’s work  and I was immediately taken with it, contacting Sarah even though her project, Dichotomy, was then yet to be completed. The series is varied yet cohesive, each beautiful, simply composed photograph exploring different aspects of nature as encountered by humans (also, the sequencing is awesome on  her website). Scrolling through the images, I found myself thinking “this one’s real, this one’s fake, real, fake,” and I stopped and thought how many of the scenes depicted are ambiguous. Whether an experience of nature is “real” or “fake” can be ambiguous in the same way.

From the artist’s statement: Captivated with the natural world around me, the majority of my work revolves around nature and its abilities to expose its ever-changing wonder. Curiosity inspires my work as I consider humans co-existence with nature and how animals are integrated into our lives every which way we look. I often question the authenticity of natural environments because the line between animal and manmade worlds has become foggy.

Visit artist's site: sarahjstankey.com

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