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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.

Brooks Dierdorff

Brooks Dierdorff

Brooks Dierdorff is a name that has been in my notes for a long time. In 2012, I saw his talk “Cultural Predators: Photography and Its Relationship to Hunting Culture” at the national SPE conference in San Francisco. His series Trophy has always stuck with me and I’m happy to add it to the site today. Beyond loving the idea executed in this project, I’m so fascinated by the dead animal pictured, literally and figuratively suspended. Its body floating or propped up, its killer having been erased from the picture; its existence prevented from disappearing altogether by the act of photography.

From the artist’s statement: The series “Trophy” deconstructs the prevailing visual codes within hunting culture by manipulating hunting trophy photographs found online. Erasing the hunter from the image reveals the conventions through which animals are objectified, and heightens the visual rhetoric through which humans attempt to dominate the natural world.

Visit artist's site: brooksdierdorff.com

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Jordan Baumgarten

Jordan Baumgarten

I discovered the work of Jordan Baumgarten through Take/Aim, an exhibition in collaboration between Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art and the Northlight Gallery at Arizona State University that was on view this past fall. Included in the exhibition with Baumgarten were some artists I admire, Jesse BurkeErika LarsenBrian Lesteberg, Jason Vaughn, and others I hope to feature soon. Baumgarten’s work explores notions of contemporary American masculinity. I was attracted to his photographs in the series Average Americans of the Right Type, depicting various staples of hunting culture, for their tranquility and unobtrusiveness – qualities unexpected in a picture of a practice so typically associated with “manliness.”

From a statement by the artist, via Fraction Magazine: “Average Americans of the Right Type” is a photographic investigation of masculinity. The title is borrowed from Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiography, specifically the chapter “In Cowboy Land,” which is largely devoted to his time spent in the American West. While there, he experiences the ruggedness of the frontier, which furthers his ongoing preoccupation with the construction of masculinity. Throughout his life, Roosevelt sought out and advocated for specific manly acts — things the right type of man would do.

I make photographs that illustrate masculine ritual in the Roosevelt mold, the outdoorsmen’s perspective and experiences, interaction with nature, and community. I don’t photograph grand vistas with men on horseback overlooking valleys. Rather, I see pickup trucks parked in the woods; I see the way a man climbs up a frosty hill with his hunting dogs; I see the warmth emanating as you return home from a winter’s day hike. These are not the glorified aspects of manliness; they are the foundation upon which that glory is built.

I acknowledge that Roosevelt’s and my own notion of manliness is looked upon as being old-fashioned. This romanticized construction of what it once meant to be a real man, with the idea of the right type so narrowly defined, gives me a framework in which to explore my own masculine identity and expectations. I can then begin to ask myself, What makes a man, and what kind of man am I?

Visit artist's site: jordanbaumgarten.com

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Frédérick Carnet

Frédérick Carnet

On the Day of German Unity, October 3, 2014, Frédérick Carnet photographed the family of his future wife emptying their pond of water and collecting its fish. This is a regular occurrence, taking place every two or three years, so the fish can be transferred to clean water and eaten throughout the year. The series depicts one day in the life of a family, meeting around their pond to collect a source of food that will sustain them during the year to come. Despite the displacement of the animals, the moments pictured seem so pleasant, ordinary, and pure. Carnet has created a wide variety of photographic projects, many of them dark or jarring, and I appreciate this group of pictures about a family from Saxony spending the day with their pond and their fish.

From the artist’s statement: This series could be seen as a kind of documentary photographic piece of work, but for me, it is part of a whole photographic process called Chronicles of an Absolute. Since 2009, I’ve been shooting constantly to find answers. Lost in a world I hardly understand, every series I build gives me keys to determine my own personality. I see my photography as a quest to a better knowledge of myself, a way to give up with my fears, my anger, my soreness, my lack of confidence.

Visit artist's site: frederickcarnet.com

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Max Knight

Max Knight

Wednesday is my day off from work. Every Wednesday morning, I take my dog for a long walk around our neighborhood, and something that I always notice is cats in the windows of houses we pass by. It never fails to make me smile. Max Knight emailed me a couple of weeks ago and showed me something that instantly appealed to me – his photographic series of cats in windows. (Knight also makes gorgeous photographs of many other things.) For a zine he made, here is something Knight wrote about these pictures:

Cats sit in windows for research purposes
They are simply gathering information

People do not like you taking pictures of their windows
They shout sometimes

I have a map of cats I’ve spotted while driving
Sometimes I go back to the spot, but they are never there

I’ve taken a few pictures of dogs in windows, thinking they were cats
This annoys me

Visit artist's site: maxknightphoto.com

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Yola Monakhov Stockton

Yola Monakhov Stockton

It was about a year ago that I first came across Yola Monakhov Stockton’s work, and several of her images have stuck with me ever since. In her series The Nature of Imitation, the artist looks closely at birds, using color film and studio props to explore “the connection between seeing, knowing, and wanting.” The pictures are warm, lovely and romantic. They capture a powerful tension that exists in the relationship between humans and animals, particularly birds, one that comes from the fact that the creature can quickly burst into movement – into flight – and disappear from view.

The line from Monakhov Stockton’s statement that intrigues me most is the final one, referring to the desire to make, in the field/in nature, work that looks and feels as if it were created in the studio, “a place of making, control, and imagination.” I feel like this aspect comes across in the sense that something in each image is not quite right, not quite where it belongs, about to transition into something or someplace else.

From the artist’s statement: In detailed, hyper–real photographs that recall the decorative drawings of natural history, the work evokes the delicate experience of holding a bird, against traditions of landscape representation in religious iconography, Renaissance frescoes and tapestries, and Modernist painting and sculpture. Through collaborations with scientists, ecologists, and naturalists on the Massachusetts coast, and at universities and research centers across the Northeast and in Costa Rica, the photographer gained access to wild birds captured for banding, before their release, and those captive in labs… The series draws on the contact-printed albums of Anna Atkins and illustrations of John James Audubon, and revisits positivist modes of photographic representation against a contemporary and personal awareness of the fragility of place. The work derives from the photographer’s background as a documentary photographer in fields of conflict, where the deeply-felt experience of presence and witnessing sometimes clashed with the aesthetics of the resulting photographs, which were steeped in the exigencies of narrative. Here, in the constructed field of a pictorial space, the artist wished to make work in the field, in the place of the living objects depicted, but to do so as if in a studio, a place of making, control, and imagination.

Visit artist's site: yolamonakhov.com

Found via: Lenscatch

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Crystal McBrayer

Crystal McBrayer

The first things I photographed with any seriousness, as a young teenager, were bones and dead birds I’d find on walks through my neighborhood. So looking at the work of Crystal McBrayer, I felt a sense of nostalgia and an intense desire to get outside and into nature, even (and especially!) in these dreary fall and winter months. Crystal graciously offered to answer some questions and tell me more about her photography. Be sure to check out her other projects – Ruminations on Earthen and Osseous Matter is also fantastic.

Describe your process in creating the series Birds, Bones, & Other Once-living Things.

This project has really been a collaborative one from the beginning, involving my children in everything from discussions about life and often untimely death, respecting and honoring that life, and how art-making connects us deep to that process. All of the birds and bones in the images were discovered on our property in Prairie Grove, Arkansas where we lived and played in the woods. Our house was surrounded by a dense hardwood forest, with an enormous cow pasture on the hill behind our property. We had free-range chickens, two dogs, a lush garden (thanks to all of the rain NW Arkansas gets) and shared the property with a lot of wild animals. This put us right in the middle of experiencing the cynical nature of life. Birds crashed into our windows often, and became a very recognizable sound. Bones were dragged to our yard as gift offerings by our dogs or discovered on walks through the woods. Chickens became subject to the wide array of wild predators in the woods surrounding our house. Decay of plants were easily observed in a yard that wasn’t manicured. When these objects were discovered, they quickly became a source for discussion, investigation, and ultimately photographed. Mostly, as a way to remember that brief bit of time before it turned back to earth. Some of the images are captured in the moment, while others are curated with the help of my kids.

Bones and animal bodies appear in several of your photographic projects. What draws you to once-living things?

I think it’s that desire to connect with and understand the cycle of life. Feeling that relation to the earth, presented by our ultimate return back to the dirt.

Why do you make pictures – do you have an “agenda” or an opinion you feel driven to communicate to viewers?

Most of my work stems from the fact that I want to be outside every waking moment. I’ve always been passionate about enjoying and protecting our natural environment, and get energy from exploring any aspect of it I can. So my picture-making is really just an expression of my love for that, a document of that natural world.

What is your work/life like outside of image-making?

Professionally, I teach art at Boise State University and am the treasurer for the Northwest region of the Society for Photographic Education. Outside of work, I hike, camp, ski, bike, fish, garden, study plants, read books about nature, and anything else I can do to explore my outdoor environment.

What inspires you?

I think it’s fairly obvious by now that most of my inspiration comes from the wilderness, but I get a lot of inspiration from the people around me, my family, my friends, my colleagues, and my students. I love the partnership that the photography community has and am always inspired by seeing our ideas shared and expressed in images.

What would your autobiography be called?

Ha! That’s a good question. I’m a big fan of Henry David Thoreau, so maybe “Crystal McBrayer, the Photographic Story of a Deliberate Life Lived in the Woods.”

Visit artist's site: crystalmcbrayer.com

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L.A. Watson

L.A. Watson

I do a lot of Googling of the term “roadkill art.” I believe that’s how I came upon L.A. Watson’s Roadside Memorial Project, some time ago. Watson’s ongoing project is a “site-specific installation of reflective road signs that function as a memorial for animals killed on the road, as well as a new kind of warning sign for drivers.” Positioned low to the ground at the edge of the road are the silhouettes of animals commonly killed by cars. With their headlights on, cars passing by in either direction activate the reflective signs and cause drivers to reduce their speed and pay attention to the edges of the road, where wildlife is most likely to appear. I love what Watson writes about the signs’ color, that “white was chosen not only because it is the most highly reflective color, but because it references the iconography of human roadside memorial crosses and denotes innocence, sacrifice, spirits and ghostly specters.” I think this is such a fantastic project and I can’t wait to see more art like this, both from Watson and from others who recognize the importance of drawing attention to the tragic fact that so many animals are killed by cars on roadways.

Watson writes about her work in the chapter “Remains to Be Seen: Photographing ‘Road Kill’ and The Roadside Memorial Project” in the book Economies of Death: Economic Logics of Killable Life and Grievable Death (in which I recently learned that Watson referenced my own work!). An excerpt from the chapter: An estimated one million animals—are killed each day—in motor vehicle collisions in the United States alone. In order to help combat human fatalities and vehicular damage, wildlife warning signs featuring large-bodied animals are erected to warn drivers to the possibility of their presence; yet signs warning of smaller wildlife—who pose a much lesser threat to human life or property—such as turtles, squirrels, raccoons, or possums, are overwhelmingly absent on our nation’s highway road signs. While wildlife warning signs have been shown to reduce collisions with animals, and can function to protect both human and non-human animals’ lives, their primary purpose remains to protect human lives above all Others (as evidenced by the disparity between signs for large-bodied vs. small-bodied wildlife). In this way, the wildlife warning sign, as a highly visible, public marker, creates a particular kind of frame that works to establish “whose lives can be marked as lives, and whose deaths will count as deaths.” What would an egalitarian representation of road signs that reflects the true diversity of animals killed on the road look like?

Visit artist's site: lawatsonart.com

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Andrew Moore

Andrew Moore

After coming across Andrew Moore’s Dirt Meridian, I’ve decided to add aerial pictures of the Midwest to my list of favorite types of photography. Like the work of Terry Evans, Moore’s photographs showcase the qualities of “flyover country” that make this land unlike anywhere else. The grandness and openness, the harshness and desolation, the feeling that so much of it is untouched and unbothered, or maybe just well cared for or left in peace. With reverence, Moore captures an indescribable vastness and a special kind of beauty of the High Plains.

From a statement in Moore’s 2015 book, Dirt Meridian: No longitude in the United States carries the weight of the 100th Meridian. It’s the dividing line that bisects the country almost exactly in half between the green fertile east and arid lands of the west. It’s a land of invisible histories where there is much more than meets the eye. Yet today, it remains most commonly known as “Flyover Country”.

Photographer Andrew Moore brings this land to life in Dirt Meridian, interlacing its storied past to a vital but uncertain future. Having worked this line since 2005, Moore combines aerial and traditional large-format photography to depict the restrained, almost elusive, terrain, and the stories of families defiantly connected to the challenging landscape along the area west of the 100th Meridian in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico.

Dirt Meridian is in part about the legacy of the settler’s ambition and failure on these arid high plains, as well as the evolving story of this region of the country. In a time when climate change, drought and energy exploration are increasingly at the forefront of national concerns, the book speaks of a land subject to extreme weather conditions, where water and resources have always been scarce.

To capture the expanse of the landscape Moore took to the air in a low-flying plane, using a specially modified, extremely high-resolution digital camera mounted under the wing. Flying close to the ground allowed a perspective in which the intimate seemed conjoined with the infinite. From above, the land is like one endless unpunctuated idea—sand, tumbleweed, turkey, bunch stem, buffalo, meadow, cow, rick of hay, creek, sunflower, sand—and only rarely does a house or a windmill or a barn suddenly appear to suspend the sense of limitlessness. In Dirt Meridian these isolated sites are used both directly and indirectly to address such motifs as drought and plenty, ambition and despair, the eternal and the ephemeral—themes so redolent along this overlooked dividing line of America.

Visit artist's site: andrewlmoore.com

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Birthe Piontek

Birthe Piontek

I discovered Birthe Piontek’s work through one of her more recent projects, but it was her series The Idea of North that made me fall in love with the way the artist photographs. In 2008, Piontek spent three months in a small community in Canada’s Yukon, where she “experienced first hand the mystery and fascination of life above the 60th parallel, and met people who came here as part of their quest for the idea of North.” Each image in the series, whether depicting a human or a structure or a scene in nature, is a portrait of a place that clearly holds some magic and inexplicable intrigue. Even after looking at all 50+ of the photographs that make up the project, most of them portraits of a distinct and fascinating diversity of people, the viewer walks away with the sense that they were only given a taste of what this world is truly like.

From the artist’s statement: Individuation is a recurring theme in my photographic work: the ways people struggle to belong yet be different at the same time. Sometimes, people’s quests for identity lead them to leave the beaten path, and take the road less travelled. And for them, the quest for self-discovery becomes a journey in every sense of the word. The fast-paced, anonymous life of the urban environment sometimes offers neither the time nor space for individualization, nor the comforting place needed for belonging. So, for some, the sense of freedom and interdependence intrinsic to a remote, Northern community makes it an idealized symbol of the Promised Land.

The idealization of the North has been nourished by stories by Jack London and Robert Service; by numerous movies about the area’s wild and pristine tapestry; and even by images of the Northern lights, which to this day, although certainly explicable by science, have lost none of their spiritual fascination or magical appeal. I’m not the first observer to be simultaneously intrigued, yet remain a visitor. Glenn Gould, whose work inspired the title, wrote after visiting the North briefly, “I’ve read about it, written about it, and even pulled up my parka once and gone there. Yet like all but a few Canadians I’ve had no real experience of the North. I’ve remained, of necessity, an outsider. And the North remained for me, a convenient place to dream about, spin tales about,” and in the end, return South.

Visit artist's site: birthepiontek.com

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Emily Vallee

Emily Vallee

In her series Down the Rabbit Hole, Emily Vallee investigates her family’s relationship with the landscape and the beings that exist within the forest and the psychological aspects and implications manifested and held there. Born and raised on a farm in the green mountains of Vermont, Vallee writes that she has an often inexplicable, reverent and deeply personal bond with the natural world. Her practice generally explores her relationship with the earth and the animals that roam the woods and fields. Vallee’s photographs are quiet and still, yet striking–each image is powerful and arresting. To me, the work speaks of the brutality of nature, in the stark months of winter as well as other times of year when, while the vegetation is green and verdant, the stories that unfold are dark and mysterious.

From the artist’s statement: Through photography I seek to unearth the connection between the human and the animal. There is constant fluctuation in relationship of ‘human’ and ‘animal’. Aldo Leopold states in his Sand County Almanac that “we abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect”. I consider in my photographs how this sentiment translates not only to our relationship with the land but to our relationship with animals – furthermore the creatures, plants and living things we share this planet with. We have constructed a separation between humans and the wilderness. I hunt to find this separation, examine it and and simultaneously destroy these boundaries. With these photographs I ask, although we have stepped so forward into the future, what can we gain from stepping back to examine our most animalistic nature? Imprints left on the land from animal and from human are particularly salient, they symbolize an event, a stepping, a whisp of air, a birth, a body, and above all they hold mystery.

“The intricacy of the crossing paths and crossing energies in a forest — the paths of birds, insects, mammals, spores, seeds, reptiles, ferns, lichens, worms, trees, etc., etc. — is unique; perhaps in certain areas on the seabed there exists a comparable intricacy, but there man is a recent intruder, whereas, with all his sense perceptions, he came from the forest.” – John Berger

Visit artist's site: emilyvallee.com

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