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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.

Elisa Ferrari, "Winter Corral"

Elisa Ferrari

Elisa Ferrari is a Los Angeles-based photojournalist and portrait photographer who recently lived in Sweden documenting Sámi reindeer herders in the Arctic Circle. I remember learning about the Sámi people through Erika Larsen’s project Sámi: Walking with Reindeer, and while both series depict the same subject matter, they are quite different in style. I love how bright and saturated Ferrari’s photographs are, how much white and how much color is in the pictures. While I’m showing mostly images with animals in them here, Ferrari’s series The Sámi Way contains over fifty photos featuring landscapes, various facets of the culture, and expressive portraits of the people and their protests “against open pit mining, logging, dams, and wind farms that are currently being constructed on Sámi land. They protest not only to protect their livelihood, cultural heritage, and reindeer grazing lands, but also in the name of the environment, which they feel is their responsibility to protect for future generations.”

From the artist’s statement:

Can you hear the sounds of life
In the roaring of the creek
In the blowing of the wind

That is all I want to say
That is all

-Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (Sámi poet, 1943-2001)

The Sámi are an indigenous group native to the Arctic Circle. They inhabit Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Kola Peninsula – known as the area of Sápmi. By tradition, they are reindeer herders who have lived semi-nomadically in this seemingly uninhabitable region since time immemorial. These images where taken in the Sápmi area of Sweden. The Sámi have a keen understanding and awareness for nature and a holistic approach to life reaching back thousands of years. Within the resonance of their ancient wisdom is the call for a more responsible use of land and resources.

Visit artist's site: elisaferrariphotography.com

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Gabriela Guganovic

Gabriela Guganovic

It was through Life Framer’s “Animal Kingdom” competition that I discovered Gabriela Guganovic’s work. I found her series Imagine beautiful and unique. Looking around further on her portfolio website, I saw the series Everyday Stillness and was really intrigued. The subject matter of food and drink items on a white tablecloth is similar to that of Laura Letinsky’s photography, but there’s something more going on in Guganovic’s pictures. The presence of animal parts adds an element of mystery and oddity to the photographs, nodding to time’s passing and the inevitable decay of all things. Each image is thoughtfully and intentionally constructed, with perfect lines and placement and gorgeous textures, even (and especially) when those textures are in the vast fields of white cloth or moody shadows. The series has me thinking also of Tara SelliosMarian Drew, and Sam Taylor-Wood’s A Little Death.

From the artist’s statement: Everything on our table, whether utilitarian or organic, has its own dignity and beauty. Each has a reason for its existence. Combining these articles with a faint touch of decay evokes a feeling of time, recognition of loneliness and nostalgia. These images are collectively reflecting on everyday stillness, quiet, solitude and mystery, with combined elements of discomfort and familiarity. Well directed lighting enhances the transparent qualities of table settings that usually goes unobserved. I am not interested solely in the surface appearance of these things, but prefer to include their inner structural and emotional core, their density of form and feeling. There is spiritual significance in this density of matter- something timeless, immortal and surprising. Decay starts straight after things are born.

Visit artist's site: gabrielafineartphotography.com

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Ingvild Melberg Eikeland

Ingvild Melberg Eikeland

Ingvild Melberg Eikeland’s photos are eerie and mysterious. While documentary in nature, the pictures in Of Birds and Men seem to depict something more than bird-watching men, like a ritual or a spiritual journey. The series makes me think of a poem, as does this statement about the work from the artist’s website:

As the spring migration approached, they gathered their equipment and directed their eyes to the sky.

Through forests, fields and along the seashore I followed them in their paths as the birds were returning to the north after a cold long winter.

They hung up their nets, adjusted their binoculars, put up their tripods.

Then we waited.

Visit artist's site: ingvild-melbergeikeland.squarespace.com

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Jade King

Jade King

When I was living in Kansas, I loved to visit the Kansas City Zoo and check out the iconic old Great Ape House, which looked like an animal enclosure in a zoo of the future (I suppose it’s the fact that it was built in the 60s and was intended to have that space-age look that makes me think of it that way). The structure was torn down this past fall, after having sat empty for over a decade. Even though zoos all over the world have spent that time moving toward more naturalistic animal enclosures, and the Great Ape House was often considered a prison for the intelligent gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans that it housed, many are nostalgic for the classic structure of the past, I learned from a Kansas City Star article.

This is what’s on my mind as I view and think about Jade King’s series Nature and Concrete, which addresses the complex urban morphology of the Zoological Society of London Zoo. King’s photographs feature three structures: The Mappin Terraces (or “Bear Mountain,” built 1913-14), The Penguin Pool (built 1934), and The Elephant & Rhino Pavilion (built 1962-65). I find the story behind the scenes and the images King created of them quite fascinating.

From the artist’s statement: Each of these structures is a demonstration of a constructed idea of the ‘natural’. The structures are preserved as architectural monuments, but were built as enclosures: to house, present and retain particular animals. At the time of visiting, none of the three structures were home to animal species originally intended to occupy the space – ‘Bear Mountain’ is now the ‘Australian Outback’, penguins live on the other side of the zoo from Lubetkin’s modernist Penguin Pool, and tapirs and bearded pigs wander mainly unnoticed around the edges of Casson’s Brutalist Elephant & Rhino Pavilion.

The outdated but grade-listed structures cannot easily be demolished, so the zoo is forced to adapt the structures in consideration of constantly changing developments in animal husbandry. Disjointed modifications appear awkwardly within the built fabric, and indicate makeshift responses to the unanticipated behavior of the resident animals, whose agency is marginalised by their captivity. Elsewhere, manmade barriers hide in plain sight: the zoo exists as a visual tableaux at once inviting speculation and controlling interpretation.

Visit artist's site: jadeaudreyking.com

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Nich Hance McElroy

Nich Hance McElroy

Nich Hance McElroy’s Great Divide is a series of candid, quiet photographs of the American outdoors. Not the glamorous, enchanting outdoors, but the plain, inelegant, ordinary places outside homes and buildings. McElroy’s images depict scenes tranquil and still, simple moments that can be easily overlooked but make contemplative, mysterious photographs. As a whole, the series suggests a vastness to the land, and the solitude that accompanies that quality, as well as boundaries and literal divisions. Of Great Divide, the artist has written, “Geologically, it defines the western and eastern watersheds of North America: water flows east toward the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and west toward the Pacific on the other. Repurposing physical geography to figurative ends raises questions about other divisions: between humans and the natural world, between subjects, and between phases in human life. Where do things end up on either side of a wedge?”

Visit artist's site: nhmcelroy.com

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Dan Nelken

Dan Nelken

I have always felt so strongly drawn to the county fair, to the animals and their people one can observe there. There’s something about these animals, not quite pets but not wild, presented with pride by the wholesome, hardworking people who care for them. As with many places where the complex relationship between humans and animals can be seen, it’s not hard to spot odd scenes and happenings, like a sheep seemingly dripping with wool from one clean-shaven side or a boy sitting to rest on top of a giant pink pig. I find Dan Nelken’s County Fair Portraits so genuine, natural, and human. They illustrate the character of a community and a unique American way of life that’s slowly disappearing.

From the artist’s statement: In farming communities across the United States, the harvest is celebrated annually at county fairs. In some places, this tradition has been established for more than 180 years. As surprising as it may seem in a society saturated with modern diversions, the county fair is proof that an agrarian spirit, not dissimilar to that evident in prior centuries, still is a vital presence. Family farmers are the core participants in these summer events, yet family based farming is struggling to retain its economic and cultural relevancy in rural communities while trying to compete with factory farming. Only one quarter of the remaining 2,000,000 farms in America are family-run farms. Yet even with this shrinking family farm base, thirty-five percent of all U.S. counties still hold county fairs… Both young and old alike compete in a variety of categories to win prized ribbons: best in show, best of breed, champion, showmanship. Participants as young as five-years-old work year round to showcase the object of their daily attention: livestock, poultry, vegetables, or flowers. Befriending some of the families that participated year after year, I was struck by the fact that they take part, not for any significant economic gain, but for the camaraderie and the inner satisfaction of knowing that their yearlong efforts might reward them with a blue ribbon or the highly-prized, “Best in Show” purple ribbon.

Visit artist's site: dannelken.com

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Paul Bransom

Paul Bransom

Several years ago, I bought a small collection of postcards illustrating what I gathered from the captions were fables. I’ve always loved them and never thought to find out the identity of the original artist until recently, when I came across the work of Charles Livingston Bull, whose style is quite similar. Like Bull, Bransom was born in the late 1800s and called Washington, DC, home for a time in his life. Bransom got his start as an artist there, sketching animals he saw at the National Zoo. According to Wikipedia, Bransom “began his career as a technical draftsman for the U.S. Patent Office when he was 13 years old. In 1903 he moved to New York City where he worked for the New York Evening Journal as a comic strip artist… His earliest commissions were covers for the Saturday Evening Post and illustrations for editions of Kipling’s Just So Stories and Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.” The postcards I admire are illustrations from An Argosy of Fables, published in 1921. Thanks to Internet Archive, I was able to see many more of Bransom’s beautiful and classic illustrations in Neighbours Unknown, Hoof and Claw, and The Feet of the Furtive (stories I’ve definitely added to my “to read” list).

Source: Internet Archive

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Allie Mount

Allie Mount

When I first saw Allie Mount’s Sandy River Landscapes, I was convinced they were paintings. After I realized they were photographs, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the artist has a degree in painting. Her landscape photographs are so sensitive, grand, and detailed. They’re quiet, and a bit moody, and I just find them gorgeous. I also enjoy Mount’s series Secret Garden, a group of photographs in which vegetation of some sort makes an appearance in every image, as an overwhelming expanse, a perfected and curated sample, or a character outside the window.

From the artist’s statement: I photograph landscapes; specifically, the western landscapes where I have grown up and now live. California’s hills and deserts, Oregon’s coastlines and Columbia River Gorge – these all describe what it means to be from the western United States. Terrain that is specific to the west is iconic, with a tradition of being documented, charted and admired. But it is also, personal, an intimate backdrop that colors the identities of the people who live here. The connection between location and what makes you who you are; what it means to be “from” a certain place – this is what I find fascinating. The land is almost a character in its own right, whose influence shapes us and informs our sense of the familiar, of home.

Visit artist's site: cargocollective.com/alliemount

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Larry Gawel

Larry Gawel

I saw Larry Gawel’s work for the first time at an SPE conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. It was a collection of tintypes, so intimate and personal that they seemed to ask to be held in your hands. The subject matter can seem gruesome at first, but upon closer inspection, what Gawel has photographed are animals he has hunted, harvested, close-up and closed-eyed, communicating not a gory death–more like a peaceful sleep. There’s a reverence in the photographs made by Gawel, who identifies as a gardener, gatherer, hunter, and fisherman, and certainly feels rewarded by a close relationship with nature and the provisions it brings to his table. As an artist who has also made pictures of dead animals, I deeply appreciate Gawel’s beautiful, meaningful photographs that illustrate an often challenging aspect of the way humans and animals coexist. (See also another series of his that I quite love, Twenty Insignificant Reminders of a Mountain Walk.)

From the artist’s statement: The tintype process, invented in the 1850’s, forms a photographic image on a metal backing. Originally produced as an affordable and durable alternative to images on glass, the tintype existed commercially until the early 20th century. In my recent series of work, “Harvest,” I’ve employed the tintype technique to document those objects that I harvest from the land for food. As a gardener, gatherer, hunter, and fisherman, my relationship with the land is personal and rewarding. I have supported local farmers, eaten local meat, and caught local fish, with the end result being both my camera and my table. By using a process invented in the 19th century, I alienate myself from a lot of the technologies associated with image making in the 21st. The result is a one-of-a-kind photographic object. Using a 19th century, 9×12 cm., plate camera, I photograph these objects directly, expoloring both their shape and form to produce a tintype photograph. Additionally, I have started placing plants directly on the sensitized plates to take advantage of the lumen printing process, where plant matter and sunlight create a camera-less image within the emulsion. Both of these processes produce one-of-a-kind images that span history in both production and content.

Gawel is an Instructor of Photography and the Photography Program Coordinator at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska. With his wife and fellow artist, Dana Fritz, he runs WorkSpace Gallery in Lincoln. Gawel and Fritz have work on view at Place M in Tokyo December 14-20.

Visit artist's site: larrygawel.com

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Dana Fritz

Dana Fritz

I have always loved Dana Fritz’s series Terraria Gigantica: the World Under Glass. For the project, Fritz photographed in the world’s largest enclosed landscapes: Biosphere 2’s ocean in the Arizona desert, the Henry Doorly Zoo’s desert in the Great Plains of Nebraska, and Eden Project’s tropical rain forest in Cornwall, England. The series addresses a common conundrum in the “ecotourism” industry. Included in the environments are (a perfect mix, in Fritz’s photographs, of obvious and subtle) signs of a “carefully constructed [representation] of the natural world.” The images make it easy to laugh at our humble efforts to recreate nature in a set-up that requires power outlets and ceilings. But like zoos, these places stand for something beyond entertaining visitors; they are centers of scientific observation and research. Therefore, human involvement is not only essential, but not necessary to try to completely hide. This complex situation, and interpretations of it by various artists, fascinates me.

Fritz’s photos make me think of our efforts to cultivate life on another planet. I love the juxtaposition of lush, beautiful greenery and hard metal surfaces or such clearly limiting boundaries. To me, it seems like the nature inside the biosphere is trying to escape into the outside world where it “belongs.”

From the artist’s statement: Built in the late 1980s to research possible space colonization, Biosphere 2 was designed as an airtight replica of the Earth’s environment. This glass and metal-framed structure contains a tropical rain forest, mangrove wetlands, a fog desert, savannah grassland, and an ocean with a coral reef. No longer airtight, it is repurposed toward research and education about sustaining our planet Earth, ‘Biosphere 1,’ through study of water, climate, and energy. The Henry Doorly Zoo supports both education and research on a campus with the largest indoor jungle in the United States and the largest indoor desert in the world. Here, the illusionism of these immersive environments also incorporates the display of the animals that live there. The Eden Project was built with a mission to educate about environmental conservation and sustainability. It currently houses over 1 million plants in the world’s largest conservatory and models sustainable practices in construction, waste reduction, and resource management. 

While the technical and aesthetic demands of these varying missions informed the physical design of these spaces, the required juxtapositions of natural and artificial elements also generate unintentionally striking visual paradoxes that can go unnoticed. These include vistas referring to the idea of landscape, thresholds signifying architecture and fragments that focus on details. In these carefully constructed exhibits, away from the crowds of visitors, the illusion gives way. In these margins, these liminal spaces, the natural and the artificial sometimes meet, overlap, and bleed together, or they collide, resist, and contrast with one another. The visual richness of these small details leads to big questions about what it means to create and contain landscapes. They ask us to think about our interactions with and attitudes about the natural world. They ask us to consider whether these spaces supplement or replace the natural world. They ask us to reflect on the distinction between the natural and the artificial.

Fritz’s work is on view at Place M in Tokyo December 14-20.

Visit artist's site: danafritz.com

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