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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.

Tara Wray

Tara Wray

I remember finding out about Tara Wray’s work and being drawn to each and every one of her projects, from Come Again When You Can’t Stay So Long, about the artist’s return to Kansas after a long absence to visit her 86-year-old grandmother as the two confront their shared grief over their broken relationships with Wray’s mother, to Deer and Hot Dogs, which present the way we live with and consume animals from a variety of perspectives. Ultimately, because I love the ways it is similar to and different from a project that has always stuck in my mind, Martin Usborne’s The Silence of Dogs in Cars, I asked Tara if she would be interested in having her series Left Behind: Dogs in Cars featured on the site. In lieu of a formal artist statement, Wray offered to answer some questions for me, and I very happily agreed. It wasn’t until after I received Wray’s answers that I learned she is the curator of a wonderful series of interviews with photographers on The Huffington Post, Doin’ Work, so her Q&A with me seemed perfectly fitting.

Describe your process in creating the series Left Behind: Dogs in Cars.

I can’t walk past a dog in a car and not want to take its picture. I don’t go out looking for them, per se, but I find them everywhere. The grocery store parking lot is one of my favorite places to photograph, and I always have my camera or my phone with me. Sometimes I get barked at or growled at and sometimes a dog will bare its teeth at me. If that happens I’ll back off. I like that dogs don’t mince words about their willingness to be photographed.

In your work, you have explored many facets of animal life and the way humans and animals coexist. What is your personal relationship to animals?

I love animals the same way I did when I was a little girl: completely and without reservation. I love a good baby animal and I really don’t care who knows it. There’s something very comforting about them. For a split second seeing a baby duck can make everything seem right with the world. I have a ten year old Norwich Terrier named Nighthawk and he’s an amazingly smart little creature with bad breath and more love to give before breakfast than I have to give in an entire day. Before I had children he was my baby. I want to raise goats and chickens, though I’m a deeply ambivalent carnivore.

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

I’m drawn to photograph the emotion of a situation. I suppose in making pictures of animals I could be accused of anthropomorphism – since I don’t really know what an animal is feeling – but I think I can read a dog pretty well. They’re much more straightforward and obvious with their feelings than most people. I don’t have an agenda. Trying to make the work “important” I think would ruin it.

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

I have five year old twin boys who are currently on summer vacation. When we’re not running around like animals, I curate a series of interviews with contemporary photographers on The Huffington Post called Doin’ Work. I like that it keeps me thinking about photography even when I’m not making it.

What inspires you?

Good photography, good food, coffee, quiet early mornings, people who know what they want in life and figure out how to get it; right now I really admire the artist Lisa Hanawalt. She loves horses and figured out how to make that her career.

What would your autobiography be called?

I kind of made one when I was 26. It’s an autobiographical documentary called Manhattan, Kansas. Then in 2014 I made a photo book follow-up to the movie called Come Again When You Can’t Stay So Long. I think I’m over making autobiographical work. In hindsight I feel I still might be too young for it.

Visit artist's site: tarawray.net

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Austin Irving

Austin Irving

Something I really miss about living in the Midwest is the abundance of tacky roadside tourist attractions. Growing up in Colorado Springs, I distinctly remember my family’s visit to nearby Cave of the Winds. I remember my dad taking us on an 8-hour road trip to see the Carlsbad Caverns. More recently, I remember visiting Meramec Caverns and Fantastic Caverns in Missouri, and marveling not particularly at the magnificence of the incredible geological sites, but at the way these places have been commercialized, modified to be marketable to tourists. This is what drew me to Austin Irving’s Show Caves, which explores “the anthropocentric tendencies of modern tourism seen in domestic and international show caves.” I strongly relate to much of what Irving writes in his statement, and the questions he asks about whether places like show caves disturb or preserve parts of our natural world.

From the artist’s statement: Show caves are natural caves managed by government or commercial organizations that have been modified to accommodate tourism. The objective of this body of work is to highlight the tension that exists between the staggering natural beauty of caves and the renovations people make in order to transform these spaces into spectacular tourist attractions. These caverns have been curated to cater to both the physical needs of sightseers as well as to our collective expectation of the fantasy of a cave. Elaborate lighting, elevators, poured cement trails, even bathrooms and souvenir stands have been added so that ancient geological wonders can be accessible and marketable to a money-giving public. Are these additions acts of vandalism disrupting a delicate eco-system for the sake of commercial profit? Or do these human interventions draw attention to the preservation of caves and make hard-to-access natural wonders readily available for appreciation?

Visit artist's site: austinirving.com

Found via: Aint Bad

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Ernest Goh

Ernest Goh

I’ve long been a fan of Ernest Goh’s studio photography of animals, as well as his poignant series Pet Owners of Laos, so I am not surprised I thoroughly enjoy his new body of work, Breakfast at 8 Jungle at 9. The series, titled after the text from an 1854 letter written by naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace detailing his daily schedule, features repeated elements of insect, bird, and mammal specimens, not unlike those collected by Wallace over a century ago. Each kaleidoscopic piece is brilliantly bright and colorful, an interesting juxtaposition considering the dead animal subject matter. When looking at the images in Breakfast at 8 Jungle at 9, I find myself thinking of the cycle of life, the patterns that occur in nature, and the ways scientific and visual practices collide to create truly stunning art.

 

Visit artist's site: ernestgoh.com

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Nadezda Nikolova-Kratzer

Nadezda Nikolova-Kratzer

In her art, Nadezda Nikolova-Kratzer’s fascination with flying insects, creatures not commonly adored, is clear. Using the historic wet plate collodion process, the artist “[illuminates] forms that are seemingly mundane and easily overlooked, seeking to highlight their intrinsic significance as well [as] to impart new meanings.” The insects in Nikolova-Kratzer’s pictures–butterflies, dragonflies, cicadas–represent rebirth, change, life cycles. They appear mysterious and ethereal in the images, moving gracefully through murky, textured backgrounds. As well as the insect photographs, I enjoy those the artist has made with birds. Overall, the images in Alae feel at the same time luminous and ominous, a combination I appreciate.

From the artist’s statement: Mysterious and able to move between earth, water and air, flying insects have inspired fables, myths and symbolic interpretation since ancient times. They conjure up universal themes of change and self-realization, spiritual transformation and enlightenment, lifecycles and immortality. As a body of work, “Alae” manifests an ongoing curiosity with cicadae, dragonflies, and other flying insects. The work is partly an intuitive reaction to beautiful and beautifully grotesque forms and partly an intentional reference to symbols. The photogram technique and the wet plate collodion substrate serve to deepen the aura of allegory and otherworldliness that envelops these liminal creatures.

Visit artist's site: nadezdanikolova.com

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Susan Badcock

Susan Badcock

Susan Badcock was led to her body of work Road Kill by a long-standing captivation with collections. Badcock photographs birds struck by cars on New Zealand roads, aiming to showcase the beauty and restore the personality of each creature. She then hand-colors the print, enhancing the piece with intentional detail and a subtle sense of movement. The impression of blurred motion, the light background (not black, as other artists have used when working with similar subject matter), and the position of the birds–compact like preserved specimens but also floating vertically in the frame–make the series feel to me graceful and ethereal, in a way more animated than the typical (dead animal) still life. The animals seem to have come alive once again in the creation of the pictures.

From the artist’s statement: Inspired by museum collections and the painterly art of the eighteenth century, I strive to rescue the grotesque mutilations of wildlife that have died pointlessly and unwittingly on New Zealand roads. My aim is to restore beauty and dignity to these plentiful animals that would otherwise receive little or no consideration.

The physicality of my photoshoots are always linked with the intricacies of hand colouring and I have an acute awareness of how colour will enhance and add additional elements to the finished work as I am shooting. The union of contemporary subject matter and the traditional photographers’ method of adding colour by hand sees attenuated water colours or thick heavy oils intensifying and diluting movement, creating emphasis and exploring detail. I am the hunter gatherer and my art builds textural and compositional elements as the birds hold their space without distraction. While I preserve the honour of the bird and its pigmentation, I am not restricted by its natural state. Instead, I am guided by my personal sensitivity and perception towards colour. Mine is a marriage of contemporary and traditional that draws the viewer in and redefines preconceived hypotheses of normal.

Visit artist's site: facebook.com/susanbadcockstudio

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Fleur Alston, "Kit and Caboodle"

Fleur Alston

In her series Kit and Caboodle, Fleur Alston creates incredibly intricate collage mandalas, a dead animal at the center of each. The mandala, “a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism that represent[s] the Universe,” seems to me to serve as a memorial to the animal that the artist has happened upon, and symbolizes balance, a cycle, life, and death. To create the mandalas, Alston uses objects that surrounded the animals in their environment. Along with the subject matter, the prominent presence of black in the images reminds me of Portia Munson’s work, and the perfect circles call to mind a few of Tamany Baker’s photographs; I’ll never tire of seeing new ways in which artists explore animal deaths, and I think each one is doing a remarkable thing.

Visit artist's site: cargocollective.com/fleuralstonphotography

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Tamara Lischka

Tamara Lischka

When I first saw these photographs by Tamara Lischka, I wasn’t sure if what I was looking at was real. I wondered how these images were made, how the artist had access to the bodies of these creatures, which looked to me at times human, animal, alien, and even manmade or sculptural, perfectly formed and packed with detail. Although I can see why some may be disturbed by the subject matter, fetuses being handled by human hands, I feel the pictures were made with such reverence, tenderness, and a genuine curiosity in the bodies that house our spirits, a curiosity for which we are often shamed. I love Lischka’s statement about the work, to which I can absolutely relate.

From the artist’s statement: When I was a child I occasionally found mermaid’s purses – egg cases for sharks and skates which had washed up on the beach. I wanted to open the purses, to find out if the leathery sacks actually contained a baby shark or not, but spent long minutes filled with anxiety about what I would see if I did. Would the fish still be alive? Would it squirm or move? Having destroyed its haven, could I really just stand there and watch the fetus die? Eventually such thoughts eclipsed all curiosity, and so I always put the purse back down on the sand and left it undisturbed.

In the past my work has held its secrets close, literally enclosed in the sculptural spaces created by curled fingers and closing hands… But now the hands are beginning to open, long sequestered thoughts and feelings finally examined and revealed. Fetus, fish, squid – the lifeless bodies of these creatures appear eerily animate, even grotesque out of context. Yet the hands that hold them nurture as much as they expose, fingers curving around the tiny forms, even as they lift them gently up into the light.

Found via: LensCulture

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Mariana Lopes

Mariana Lopes

While a student at the Portuguese Institute of Photography, Mariana Lopes began the multidimensional project Limbo. The photography portion of this venture, featured here, explores the engrossing process of taxidermy. Lopes’ photographs chronicle the transition from animal to thing, from an organic being to a manmade creation comprised of plaster and metal, the animal’s skin acting as the finishing touch. A similar narrative can be seen in the work of Andrew Tunnard and Rafal Milach, but what I appreciate about Lopes’ photos is the combination of the stark with the human, of the white background and the bright lighting with the human hand, when it appears. It reminds me of the care and craft that goes into the alien-, frankenstein-like product that is taxidermy.

From the artist’s statement: All organic matter follows a trajectory: life, death, decomposition and finally total material fading. Taxidermy exists because of the inevitability of life to fade, assuming an attempt to stop time. The reasons are several: personal validation of a hunter, the prize; immortalie a pet, document a species for scientific reasons, decorate a wall, causing horror… [it] is not possible, however, to dissociate it from nostalgia. In addition to death and destruction, taxidermy exposes the concerns surrounding human relations with and within the natural world; the strangeness that is to be part and to be apart of nature. Taxidermy does not deal with the idea of ​​resurrection, but with the idea of eternity. And for that the animal must be killed. Dead but not gone, a tribute or violation of nature, an attempt to escape the question of life and death.

Visit artist's site: mariana-lopes.com

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George Shiras

George Shiras

George Shiras, sometimes regarded as the first wildlife photographer, was born in 1859 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, and began photographing 30 years later. A lawyer and politician, it was his passion for hunting growing up that led him to photographing animals instead of killing them–“camera hunting.” Using flash photography and camera trap equipment, Shiras captured ghostly, eerie images of animals at night in Michigan and around Lake Superior. In 1906, 74 of Shiras’ photographs were published in National Geographic (source). In 1935, the National Geographic Society published a two-volume set of nearly 1,000 of his nocturnal wildlife photographs (source). Shiras died in 1942. Last year, a book of his work, In the Heart of the Dark Night, was published by Editions Xavier Barral and can be purchased here.

Source: National Geographic

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Amy Guidry

Amy Guidry

I was instantly drawn to Amy Guidry’s surreal, dreamlike paintings as soon as I saw them. I thought of Josh Keyes, a favorite painter of mine, and Salvador Dali, and I thought of the overwhelming theme the work communicates to me, which is disconnection. Each painting, with high definition and incredible attention to detail (particularly light), is a landscape of disparate elements; some even look like collage upon first glance. As a whole, Guidry’s series In Our Veins illustrates the connections, or lack thereof, amongst living things and the natural world.

From the artist’s statement: The premise of my series “In Our Veins” is to explore the connections between all life forms and the cycle of life. Through a psychological, and sometimes visceral, approach, this series investigates our relationships to each other and to the natural world, as well as our role in the life cycle. Concepts such as life and death, survival and exploitation, and the interdependence and destruction of living and nonliving organisms are illustrated throughout. Using imagery derived from dreams and free association, “In Our Veins” demonstrates these ideas in a surreal, psychologically-charged narrative.

Visit artist's site: amyguidry.com

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