MH is a blog and archive featuring artists who are interested in the ways in which humans interact with and experience animals and nature.

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



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



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



Marco Sgarbi

Marco Sgarbi

When I first contacted Marco Sgarbi, he let me know that he is not a photographer, but a shepherd. Trained as an architect, Sgarbi left the field as it was not “good for the soul,” lamenting that in his work he destroyed places “to build non-places.” A beautiful sentiment coming from someone who felt a calling and followed through to return to the land. Sgarbi has been with his sheep for three years and has made photographs since he was a child. He is a popular and prolific Flickr user, and I spent hours going through his stream selecting these few.

Sgarbi portrays his life as something so beautiful and idyllic. He photographs the animals he lives with and tends to with care and attention, often capturing quiet, everyday moments in a way that definitely makes one appreciate the difficult and rewarding lifestyle of the shepherd.

Visit artist's site: flickr.com/photos/9638154@N04



Charlotte Dumas, "Guinness Highland CA"

Charlotte Dumas

Charlotte Dumas has created many powerful photographic projects about humans’ relationship with animals, mostly the service role animals play in our society. One that is particularly heart-wrenching is Retrieved, portraits of the search-and-rescue dogs of 9/11 ten years later. Through FEMA, Dumas was able to track down fifteen of the nearly one hundred dogs that took part in the rescue operations in New York in Washington D.C. in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. She visited them and portrayed them in their homes, where they all still live with their handlers across the US. The dogs all share a beautiful vulnerability in old age while symbolizing the time that has passed since 9/11.

From the artist’s statement: On and after September 11, 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deployed close to a hundred search dogs along with their handlers—from a network of 26 active task forces from 18 different states—to both the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. In the aftermath of the attacks the dogs searched day and night for survivors, making sure no one would be stranded in the rubble, while rescue workers and firemen slowly made their way through the chaos and debris.

In my memory, the photographs of these dogs that appeared in the newspapers stayed with me most strongly: a dog being transported in a stokes basket on cables suspended high over the wreckage; another dog intently searching while maneuvering over enormous bend beams; dogs receiving eye drops after and in between shifts. I can still recall these images clearly. The dogs searched and comforted, they gave consolation to anyone involved. Seeing these pictures, I was also comforted. They somehow emanated a spark of hope amidst this scene of destruction.

Visit artist's site: charlottedumas.nl



Lynne Parks, "Lights Out Baltimore"

Lynne Parks

The other day, I received my postcard reward for supporting Lynne Parks’ Kickstarter project. A couple of people told me about Lynne Parks’ photography depicting migratory birds that have had fatal collisions with buildings. I’m so glad they did, because the artist is based in Baltimore, where I went to college and where I was returning for the national SPE conference this past spring, and I was able to see these photographs as a part of the Baker Artist Awards exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Like the work of Miranda Brandon, whose Impact pictures I shared recently, Parks’ photos bring attention to the results of building design that is antithetical to one of nature’s great movements, migration patterns. Parks volunteers for Lights Out Baltimore, an organization that seeks to raise awareness about the issue of birds crashing into buildings. She explains that birds migrate at night, orienting in part by constellations, and light pollution disorients and attracts them. They are pulled into cities full of imperceptible glass with tragic results.

From the artist’s statement: The statistics are staggering. As many as a billion birds die each year from building collisions. I deliberately chose to make portraits of the fatalities in order to highlight individual losses and value. They each tell a very specific story since we always log the address where they are found. I also photographed these specific locations to show the deadly factors. Large panes of glass are killers. Owing to the physiology of the avian brain, they either perceive a clear pathway or a reflective surface appears real. Birds are flying toward shelter and food in landscaped greenery. They find themselves in mazes of invisible barriers. We need to carefully assess the placement of trees and shrubs.

I hope that my LOB project inspires new design. It’s a matter of turning lights off, facing them downwards, creating innovative and beautiful bird-friendly design, and being considerate of migration pathways. We can’t prevent every death, but we can mitigate the losses. Birds will always grace our art, myths, and symbols, but I hope they continue in their own right.

Visit artist's site: musingrelics.com



Arne Svenson, "Strays"

Arne Svenson

I’ve mentioned Arne Svenson’s work before, in relationship to Elise Noguera Lopez‘s pictures of guinea pigs and chickens. His series, Strays, is comprised of images of kittens photographed in a way that denies the viewer the opportunity to see their faces. “The heads are turned so far to the background so as to totally disengage the subject from the viewer. In many cases, the head is turned far enough so as to appear as though there is no face to the kitten as if it had slipped off, to be replaced by the blankness of fur.” The result is off-putting and humorous. Always against a blanket or fabric backdrop with varying levels of garishness, either the kitten is an amorphous shape or, with no face for the viewer to relate to, its posture becomes the sole indicator of its mood and temperament. Svenson manages to capture the kitten lacking its typical cuteness factor. Quite a feat.

Visit artist's site: arnesvenson.com



Cig Harvey, "Scout & The Bird"

Cig Harvey

Over the last decade, Cig Harvey has created several well-known bodies of work in her signature mysterious and stark style, most notably her recent You Look At Me Like An Emergency. I was immediately enamored when I discovered her newest project, Gardening At Night. The work in progress is an exploration of home, family, nature, and time. A bit darker than her previous photography, this series contains imagery of animals and dead animals in the presence of Harvey’s young daughter. Some images are incredibly powerful on their own, packed with curiosity as well as fear, and I highly anticipate seeing the project published early next year.

Visit artist's site: cigharvey.com



Miranda Brandon, "Nashvile Warbler"

Miranda Brandon

Miranda Brandon’s series, Impact, features birds who met untimely deaths due to collisions with built structures. Photographed in a studio setup, the birds’ fantastic and fatal crashes are evident, and the images are heartbreaking. Printed over five feet tall, the pictures are affronting and powerful, causing the viewer to pause and consider the seemingly small but obviously significant ways our lifestyle affects other creatures.

Brandon is also responsible for the unique, tongue-in-cheek, and educational project, DIY Bird Populator. The artist creates paper cutouts of birds and urges viewers to “create your own population of your favorite bird wherever and whenever you like. Simply extract bird and attachment tab, fold tab, secure in place with a thumbtack in desired location, then photograph and share… Large selection of common, exotic, endangered, and extinct birds available!” Brandon photographs scenes filled with her bird placements, creating bizarre and unfortunately unrealistic pictures of birds in the wild.

Visit artist's site: mirandabrandon.com



Jana Lange, "Anima"

Jana Lange

Jana Lange’s Anima is a series about the being–the human being and the animal being. Lange states that the project is “a rethinking in the way we perceive animals and in the way we perceive ourselves in the world (as being a small part of the world).” She also writes, “I try to see the animal as an animal and to understand me as being part of its reality. I am also seen and perceived by the animal in its own way.”

Lange also has an ongoing project called Once Upon a Time, which explores the origin of the relationship between human and animal, specifically, humans and wolves. Instigated after a three-month visit to a wolf science center in Austria, the series aims to delve into our deep shared history. I am excited to see the group of images develop.

From Lange’s statement on Once Upon a Time: The wolf is an animal that has inspired our imagination like no other. Countless legends, myths and fairy tales revolve around wolves. In many parts of the world, wolves were persecuted to extinction. It is worth noting however that in former times wolves became man’s best friend. Next to humans, wolves once had the largest natural geographical range of all mammalian species. The wolf triggers both fear and fascination at the same time. Indigenous people have worshiped him as a totem, as the origin of human existence. Wolves were admired and revered for their strength, their courage and their clever way of hunting. In ancient times, the Romans considered them as symbols of sacrifice and motherhood. Indeed, it was a wolf who raised the city‘s two founders Romulus and Remus.

However, later in the Middle Ages farmers regarded wolves as wild beasts. For the privileged they became highly coveted trophies. Later they became the epitome of an unspoiled life in an untouched nature. The wolf as a beacon of hope. Wherever he enters, nature seems to be intact. For more than 60,000 years humans and wolves lived together. A shared history from which the dogs finally evolved. They became constant companions of man. They have influenced our culture, they live in our culture, they live in our family, they became part of our family.

Visit artist's site: janalange.com