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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.

Samantha Friend, "We Are Interested"

Samantha Friend

Today I’m featuring work by Samantha Friend again because as much as I enjoy her series Swatches, what she’s currently up to is a project I find even more intriguing. We Are Interested is “an honest contemporary look at America’s constantly changing relationship with nature and the various ways we try to understand the role the outside world plays in our society.” More from the artist’s statement: “By exploring how we also play a significant role in nature’s life span—though at times without intending to, or in an inevitably negative manner—what’s revealed in the process are ways in which we preserve and enhance this symbiotic relationship too. As humans, one of our primary goals is to obtain the mentality of a life well lived. Since fresh air and sunlight are intrinsic to a high quality of life, we seek to experience these necessities of enrichment while still remaining true to our desires, never forsaking the opportunity of having fun by experiencing a scheduled good time. As our vacations from the norm and surrounding environment begin to feel increasingly more forced and elaborate, we must also keep in mind that at all times we are a customer of life.”

I mentioned recently that bodies of work like this continue to show up on my radar, and I love them because they’re broad in content but specific to the image-maker, their location, their age, etc. The general questioning of the human relationship with animals and nature is my favorite kind of photography right now. You can present any artist with this concept and be met with a vast array of types of images. I think it’s important that many of Friend’s photos depict people in some way obscured, from behind or interacting with technology. Even when with others or amongst animals, each person feels strangely isolated.

Visit artist's site: samanthafriend.com

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Beth Kleinpeter, "Cat Shows"

Beth Kleinpeter

I’m a sucker for cat show pictures. There’s no venue of experiencing animals quite like cat shows, where either you’re an absolute cat fanatic or you’re overwhelmed by how enthusiastic about cats the people there are. These pictures by Beth Kleinpeter do an excellent job describing the scene. They’re straightforward and funny, not making a mockery of cat shows or the people who attend and “exhibit” (?) but illustrating this rich other world that’s rife with cat obsession artfully and with humor that’s hard to avoid.

Visit artist's site: bethkleinpeter.com

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Lex Thompson, "Viewing Station"

Lex Thompson

I love Lex Thompson’s work, particularly his series All Our Pleasant Places. In his photographs of abandoned amusement parks and other strange landscapes, Thompson explores “the American myth of Manifest Destiny and its seemingly endless horizon of optimism and possibility. The images depict the construction of fantasy and desire in our landscape, offering a return to the innocence of the Garden, but revealing the frailty of the hopes we bring to the world.” I really enjoy Thompson’s statement for the work, from which I’ve shared more below. I’ve also included a few poignant pictures from another of Thompson’s projects, Mahalo, about the collisions that occur within the islands of Hawaii. That “Breaking Wave” is a new favorite photograph of mine.

From the artist’s statement: From religious conviction to manifest destiny to Disneyland, America has struggled with fusing two human desires, to return to a state of childlike innocence and to realize a future utopia. Theologically and culturally these ideas are often conflated. Though antipodal, they share a core longing for purity, happiness, and enjoyment. There is a sense of wonder, awe, pleasure and fun to be experienced in Arcadia. The purity of an unadulterated landscape and a snow covered field, the wonders of flight and the magic of electric light, the creation of fantastical environments and the transplanting of exotic locales all bring us some sense of a return to an untainted way things were, or of the transformation of things to the way we hope they will one day be – through human or divine dominion.

Despite all the promise of these visions, each has failed us. They have been left empty, seeming to only inspire wonder in short spurts. Spectacular creations scattered around our country sit abandoned. We no longer visit them or participate in them… Decay hangs heavy on the dinosaur resurrected in concrete, facing extinction for the second time. Desolation tells the tale of our crippled mystical Puritan dreaming. “All our pleasant places are laid waste.” But even in their vacancy, they give rise to the knowledge of former faith, stoking the dwindling fire, rekindling the flame of our paradise.

Visit artist's site: lexthompson.com

Found via: Feature Shoot

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Sophie Gamand, "Dead Dog Beach"

Sophie Gamand

“There are 250,000 stray dogs in Puerto Rico, a US Commonwealth about the size of Connecticut. The stray population keeps on growing and no humane solution has yet been found.” This is the startling fact that introduces Sophie Gamand’s series, Dead Dog Beach.  The southeast coast of the island of Puerto Rico is a dumping ground known for its stray dog population and the atrocities that have occurred there. Dogs are dumped on the isolated beach every day. Although people do own dogs as pets, they see strays as vermin. The animals live short lives of neglect and abuse, used as target practice or run over by cars.

Every image in the series is heartbreaking, a portrait of a neglected dog and a day in its life. The body of work reminds me very much of my own similar project, More Dogs than Bones, in which I photographed the dog overpopulation problem on the Navajo Nation American Indian reservation in Arizona and New Mexico that contains an estimated 160,000 stray dogs and cats. Both situations suffer from a lack of resources as well as a tenet generally accepted in the culture. For viewers living in the many places where dogs are treated like a part of the family, the images of other scenarios are shocking.

From the artist’s statement: On the beach, some of the dogs are very frightened or completely feral. Others have lived in homes and follow people around the beach, wagging their tails, looking for their owners, food, or a gentle hand. Some dogs are in a state of shock. Others, reconnecting with their deep wild nature, organize themselves into packs in their battle for survival.

As I am photographing, I sometimes wonder: could the dogs of Dead Dog Beach survive on their own? If not, why can’t they? Has our bond with dogs made us so codependent that we feel the need to rescue them, and has it made dogs unfit for life in the wild? The pursuit of these questions fuels my photographic exploration.

Visit artist's site: sophiegamand.com

Found via: Feature Shoot

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Millee Tibbs, "I

Millee Tibbs

When I was photographing roadkill animals for my BFA thesis, I thought a lot about roadkill in general and about what I could do to make engaging photographs that communicated meaning. I continually received advice and suggestions, at times for wild ideas that I myself didn’t pursue but that I hope to see executed someday (at one point an artist who creates vehicle fatality memorials out of roadkill animals was mentioned. I’d still like to find these images!). Using the bodies of animals to literally spell out a message is a concept I’d never seen before.

In her series Love Notes from the Road, artist Millee Tibbs arranges roadkill snakes found on Wyoming roads into the short sentiments stamped onto Sweetheart candies. Many of the messages are layered in meaning: “I Miss You” when the animal wasn’t “missed” by a vehicle; “I Long For You” made up of long, thin creatures; snakes, animals commonly despised even in the rural West, forming the words “Hold Me.” The series’ title itself includes the idiom “from the road,” literal at the same time as figurative. It suggests “love notes written while on a car trip,” as well as “messages from the creatures who walk on the road” or “from the road the animal walks on.”

Visit artist's site: milleetibbs.com

Found via: Life Framer

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Alain Delorme, "Murmurations: Ephemeral Plastic Sculptures"

Alain Delorme

Have you seen a murmuration, a flock of starlings, before? If not in the sky, then maybe represented in photographs such as Richard Barnes’, or in films like Take Shelter? It’s a sight at the same time incredible and ominous. Artist Alain Delorme uses this phenomenon of clouds of birds undulating through air as inspiration for his series Murmurations: Ephemeral Plastic Sculptures. The images at first glance depict mesmerizing, massive flocks of starlings, but upon closer investigation actually show plastic bags meant to mimic the impressive behavior of birds. For the project, Delorme photographs and composites thousands of discarded plastic bags in graceful formations, aiming to bring attention to consumer society rife with pollution. The effect is foreboding and sinister. Poetic and upsetting, the compelling images shed light on in a pressing environmental issue in a surprising and effective way. I appreciate the “manmade” element on the edge of each frame, reminding the viewer that this problem is one that both plagues our world and is of our own creation.

Visit artist's site: alaindelorme.com

Found via: Feature Shoot

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Christopher Rodriguez, "Between Artifice and the Sublime"

Christopher Rodriguez

Lately I’ve been really interested in and drawn to projects that are broader in scope and made of more than the standard 15-20 images. Christopher Rodriguez’s Between Artifice and the Sublime is definitely one of these. The series focuses on the inextricable relationship between nature and artifice and the human role within this dialectic. With upwards of 50 images, it’s difficult to represent it well in a 10-image selection. I love the colors that almost seem to glow and the dreamy, foggy effect in the pictures. These qualities, combined with the subject matter, absolutely communicate to me the word “sublime” and its meaning in today’s artistic landscape. When I hear the word “sublime,” instead of grandiose, awe-inspiring scenes of nature untouched by man, I actually think of thrift store paintings in gaudy frames, much like the one included in Rodriguez’s series. This image I call to mind makes me feel like the sublime nowadays is a joke, like there’s no place actually left that would elicit a response of utter veneration.

From the artist’s statement: Collected through a series of road trips over the course of five years, the impetus for the project stems from a desire to evaluate our evolving paradigm of Nature. The project consists of intermingled groups of photographic genres: archetypal landscapes, street photography and abstractions, but my focus is on the interrelationships between juxtaposed images that necessitate formal and poetic associations. Separately the images isolate myths. Together they aim to demystify Nature through a process of self-aware photographic representation.

This project is rooted in the American Landscape tradition of painting and photography, and specifically uses the 18th century concept of the Sublime as a principle for re-evaluating our relationship to Nature. My anxiety over human and ecological fragility shapes my perception of the landscape and gives form to these emotionally charged images. I am looking for moments when the everyday turns bizarre and surreal; where atmosphere and emotional content bonds images together.

Visit artist's site: chrisrodriguezphoto.com

Found via: Humble Arts Foundation

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Samantha Friend, "Looking"

Samantha Friend

As soon as I saw this work, Swatches, by Samantha Friend on Feature Shoot last fall, I was captivated. Photographing predominantly in New York City zoos, Friend creates abstracted vignettes of animal habitats; “whispers of an environment” that together illustrate a mysterious space different from zoos as they are generally thought of. I find it important that Friend’s pictures were made during the “off-season,” when business is slow and zoo life in the visitor’s eyes is stagnant. In the quiet moments photographed, it is clear that although zoo visitors’ interest dwindles during the fall and winter, things at the zoo essentially remain the same. This aspect of the work speaks to the fact that there are seasons to the industry of animal viewing just as to the weather; life for the animals rarely changes, while the humans coming to see them take the colder months off and return to be entertained in the spring.

Visit artist's site: samanthafriend.com

Found via: Feature Shoot

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Paul Sisson, "Bucking Bronco, Raton, NM"

Paul Sisson

I was really happy to see Paul Sisson with some prints of his work at last month’s SPE conference portfolio walkthrough. Paul and I went to UCD together, but I didn’t get to know him very well while I was there. Since I graduated, I’ve heard about what he’s been up to here and there, for example, numerous exhibitions of his work Not So Far From Here. The project explores “the Western American landscape and the wonders and curiosities that lay beyond the focused eyes of this twenty-first century society.” The ongoing endeavor is currently about a hundred images strong and includes pictures made in a dozen or so “mountain west” states. Having grown up in Colorado and having been driving from eastern Kansas to Denver-area every few months the past three years, it’s fun to pick out the scenes I know, and at times poignantly nostalgic.

The photographs in the series highlight the way nature and wide open land are seen in the glorious west, as well as call attention to the curious and mysterious meaning of the West’s past. There are some pretty bizarre sights to be found in the middle of nowhere, and Paul has a good collection going. I also love his project, Not So Far From God, a parallel offshoot of Not So Far From Here that focuses on the peculiarities and fervor of religion in America. Because that Kansas to Colorado drive I mentioned… I can absolutely see how this series branched off from the original aim.

Visit artist's site: paulsissonphoto.com

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Life Framer "Animal Kingdom" Winners

Life Framer Photography Competition: “Animal Kingdom”

The Life Framer photography competition has been on my radar for some time, but its March theme, “Animal Kingdom,” judged by Robin Schwartz, really caught my attention. The competition is broken down into twelve themes, one per month, each judged by a different internationally acclaimed photographer or curator. Judges provide critique of their favorite images, giving artists valuable feedback from a top professional. At the heart of the award are curated exhibitions; the 24 winning and runner-up photographs and a hand-picked selection of honorary mentions are displayed at galleries in Paris, London, and Los Angeles. From Life Framer’s website: “In less than two years Life Framer has become a world-renowned platform for discovering and exhibiting contemporary photography from talented emerging photographers across the world. It is an independent photography competition of artistic integrity that promotes and champions creative culture on and offline.”

Life Framer’s site also features a Collection section, a curated space for which all competition entrants are considered regardless of whether or not they are shortlisted, as if there isn’t enough great photography to see on the themes’ pages of winners. I appreciate the sleek design and layout of the site, as well as the ease and simplicity of the submission process. This month’s theme, “An Instant,” is judged by Matt Eich. Submit now through the end of the month, and keep an eye out for the competition’s next five themes on Life Framer’s website or social media.

When exhibitions and competitions have an animal theme, I’m always excited, both to submit and to see a collection of photography about a subject I love. An image of mine was shortlisted alongside those of some great image-makers, and I’m looking to looking at more work by the winning artists.

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