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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.

Steve Baker

Steve Baker

When I was in college, one of my assignments was to make a series of photographs using only a cell phone. This was in the fall of 2010, before just about everyone had a smartphone. I was riding my bike to school every day on a bike path (a bikes-only path, not one alongside a road) and noticing the flattened bodies of birds, rats, and squirrels, presumably killed under the tires of bicycles. Because I always had my (non-smartphone) camera phone on me, it was a great, if low-quality, way to document what I was seeing even beyond the prompt of the assignment. Almost daily, I’d pull off the path, snap a photo of the animal, always including my feet, and then move its body out of the way of traffic. The pictures got me thinking toward what would be a big photographic project of mine, At Rest, and I think back to them often.

I was reminded of this assignment when I saw Steve Baker’s series of pictures, Roadside. Made with a compact digital camera, the images depict roadkill animals Baker noticed while bicycling the country lanes of Norfolk and Suffolk, England. He’d stop and look down at the animal, snapping a photo while including an aspect of his bicycle in the frame in order to “mark each image as an actual encounter with a particular creature’s lost life.” If nothing else, and even if in a “crude” manner, this inclusion unfailingly illustrates the human presence, the human tending-to of this sad scene. It’s a sentiment I can appreciate: I think there’s something so meaningful about stopping to notice the death of animals, bearing witness, performing a conscious ritual, however small, to pay tribute to the fallen animal.

Steve Baker is the keynote speaker at the Seeing with Animals conference held at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY, in March 2017. He is the author of several books about living with animals, including Artist | Animal, which can be purchased here.

Visit artist's site: steve-baker.com

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Laura Glabman

Laura Glabman

I first found out about the work of Laura Glabman through her series The Spring After the Storm, in which she documents Hurricane Sandy’s stark effects on the domestic landscapes in her Long Island neighborhood. On a recent visit to her portfolio website, I discovered Glabman’s Neighborhood Investigations, images depicting the strange presence of animals in suburban America. I have probably mentioned before that these are my favorite types of photographs–the ones you can take on an afternoon wandering around a city or a neighborhood. You can encounter things that surprise you, things weird and humorous, kooky and disturbing. (Think Daniel George, Bernard Mindich, Paul Sisson.) They’re photos I always loved taking, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of looking at them.

From the artist’s statement: The day I took the image of the giraffe on the front lawn of this suburban home, a car drove by and someone yelled out, “What is this, the Bronx Zoo?” I never met the people who lived there so I don’t know why they had a giraffe on their front lawn but I do know I would not pass up the opportunity to photograph one. I have been documenting my neighborhood for the last eight years and I have come across quite a lot of animal themed items and have been photographing them and collecting them as if they were prizes to be won at a fair. When my family and I first moved to Long Island over 50 years ago my neighborhood actually did not even exist. Everything was built from the ground up, right before our eyes. Now I am watching a lot of what was built disappear including the mom and pop stores and the old model homes. I may be a bit sentimental and as a friend of mine describes it, “Glabman lovingly embraces every shrub, ornament, home or commercial decoration she captured from neighboring properties: as though she had personally set them out for passersby to appreciate and enjoy.”

Visit artist's site: lauraglabman.com

Found via: Feature Shoot

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Rob MacInnis

Rob MacInnis

I remember seeing the movie Babe as a six-year-old and my enchantment with animals transforming to something completely new. The same thing happened when reading Animal Farm some six years later. The concept that animals could be beings like humans, capable of complex thought and conversation, and not in a cartoon, Disney-movie way, changed the way I thought about and interacted with animals. I felt like not only could I see animals, creatures commonly thought to be on earth solely for man’s enjoyment, entertainment, and consumption–animals could see me.

Rob MacInnis’s photographs are about seeing animals, both how we as humans see animals and how these creatures are animals who see. These “common” animals–sheep, goats, cows, horses, dogs, and birds–are arranged before the lens as if on their marks, ready for their performance to start. They seem aware of our presence, our watching, and unfazed. But it feels like they’re up to something, like there’s much more going on behind those inhuman eyes than what’s visible on the surface.

Although it’s longer than what I normally include, I’m posting MacInnis’s statement in its entirety. For me, it informed the pictures in a way I haven’t seen many other statements do, and the questions it suggests are worth the read.

From the artist’s statement: “We do not identify dogs in terms of their physical characteristics… They’re identified in terms of our mental constructions, so they’re basically mental objects.” – Noam Chomsky, “Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?”

I remember a potent thought I first had as a kid at my family’s cottage on the Northumberland Strait, sitting on cheap reclining lawn chairs one October night. I inhaled the cool air from the shore as my mind was blown by my cousin’s descriptions of the impossible heavens above. During a little silence, I had a big thought: “What would it be like if the universe had never existed?” I tried hard, but couldn’t imagine. It was an odd thought, though a pleasingly impossible one which I tend to revisit with the same frequency as my attempts to learn the elusive art of whistling. “Could whistling create a portal to another universe?!” may describe how I approach my artworks/projects/distractions/displays-of-affection. Throwing rocks as far out to sea as I can, resulting in ever-pathetic, humorous and inevitable failures that re-verify the limits of my own present reality. The rocks always land somewhere between me and the waterfall at the end of the ocean, rubbing the real and the imaginary together.

Years later, as John Cage became the patron saint of my contrarian heart, I day-dreamed that these failures were not inevitable. Every limiting parameter signified a space beyond [its] edge. The trick I learned from my smarter older brother, that it’s impossible to look at a word without reading it, felt more like a challenge than a rule. I wondered if I could look an animal straight in the eye and make no assumptions about [its] thoughts.

I blew large, uneasy shiny bubbles, anti-photographs of animals. And if you looked close in the right light you would see contained within, the apparition of perfected human bodies and photography’s ability to forever justify its exploitations. Something Lorrie Morre said, “I would never understand photography, the sneaky, murderous taxidermy of it.” To be honest, I am shy and people frightened me. Animals only pooped on your shoes.

I wondered if you projected enough white light onto black, would it disappear? Would the result be the negation of both, something new or just the impartial, toothless arbitrar? Could I ever see an animal? Or realize what seeing it means? I wanted to catch myself not seeing them. If I made them look like us, simply by virtue of my sharp aim, my repetitive and singular approach, my stylish bag of photo tricks, what would be the reflection? If I blew a bubble shiny enough, attractive enough, as impeccable as the polished mirror in a deep-space telescope: would it perfectly reflect us, richer than before? Can we really only see our own creations and nothing else?

It’s truly bizarre to tell people you have never seen these animals, but have only thought of them. That they can’t see this donkey, posed as a fashion model, because everything inside of a photograph is a hallucination. Trying to make animals disappear is about as hard as imagining the opposite of the universe but it’s well worth the effort.

Visit artist's site: robmacinnis.com

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Tony Maher

Tony Maher

I was introduced to Tony Maher’s work by my friend Julia Schlosser, who is working on putting together a photography exhibition about pet animals. While at first Maher’s Mermaids series reminded me of Seth Casteel’s famous Underwater DogsMermaids is not so comedic as it is mysterious, ethereal, and even off-putting. Large black dogs are clearly playing and swimming in a pool, but in some images the pool reads as a rough ocean, and the perspective–from below–is one we certainly don’t expect of “life with pets” snapshots. My favorite of the images are the ones in which black animal-like shapes are moving toward the camera with unknown intentions, or a silhouette of a creature seems wrapped up in white water and bubbles, its direction and orientation unidentified.

From the artist’s statement: These images float in a sort of limbo between real and unreal. It is the suggested reality that gives the viewer something to grasp onto to try and make some kind of a connection with the subject. As playful as the images may seem at first, they still emote a sinister sense of place. They are taken from a vantage point not normal to most people, forced under water where we struggle to make a connection. The title refers to the mythological creatures that many a sailor fell in love with. Only the sailor could never really reach the beautiful maiden, and was left instead with a sense of wonder and unattainability. Stories tell of sailors falling overboard trying to reach a mermaid, only to end up struggling beneath the waves.

Visit artist's site: tonymaher.net

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David Chancellor

David Chancellor

Today I am so pleased to share the incredible photography of David Chancellor. I came across Chancellor’s work several years ago, when I saw a video advertising his book, Hunters. His images are confrontational, and often difficult to look at, but they are so powerful, and so gorgeous, that it’s hard to look away. The work featured here comes from a long-term project documenting human-wildlife conflict in all its forms. The series “explores the complex relationship that exists between man and animal, the hunter and the hunted, as both struggle to adapt to our changing environments.”

From the artist’s statement: “He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time, it might have been five seconds, I dare say, he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One would have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upwards like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further.” From “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwel

In many instances whilst documenting hunters what I was presented with was the opportunity to explore the animal quietly and calmly before the madness resumed as skinners arrived, this work is included here. The madness is also included.

Then of course the beasts have to be reconstructed by expert hands to look as if all is well and the period between life, and death, has not occurred at all, now they live in another plain reborn to live forever.

Visit artist's site: davidchancellor.com

Found via: Feature Shoot

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Rosamond Purcell

Rosamond Purcell, “An Art That Nature Makes”

In theaters today is An Art That Nature Makes, a documentary about the photographer and artist Rosamond Purcell. I’ve admired Purcell’s work for many years, likening her art to Rauschenberg’s, but gentler and feminine, “lovely” (all in a positive way). Purcell’s sensitivity and curiosity are evident in her photographs; I’ve always loved the way those qualities about her come through in her images.

I was thrilled to come across a trailer for An Art That Nature Makes fairly recently. The documentary explores Purcell’s “fascination with the natural world – from a mastodon tooth to a hydrocephalic skull – offering insight into her unique way of recontextualizing objects both ordinary and strange into sometimes disturbing but always breathtaking imagery.” An Art That Nature Makes is being screened August 10-16 at Film Forum in New York City (additional screenings can be found here). I can’t wait to see the film and learn more about Purcell and her process. She seems like a person I’d love to know.

View trailer

Source: anartthatnaturemakes.com

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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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