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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.

David Paul Bayles

David Paul Bayles

David Paul Bayles’s talk, “From Chainsaw to Camera: A Life with Trees,” was the first one I attended at the SPE NW regional conference last month, and it made an impression. Bayles is an engaging speaker, and the work from each of his projects that he presented was so beautiful. I particularly responded to the story Bayles told about the land where he lives in the Coast range of western Oregon, which was affected by a windstorm after a neighbor clearcut their portion of the forest. When I approached Bayles about featuring his work here, I was pleased to see that the statement he provided is a nice summary of what I heard him say.

From the artist’s statement: The images in “Working Forest” are part of a larger body of work that is informed and inspired by my physical and spiritual relationship with trees.

Two years after a neighbor clearcut their portion of the forest where my wife and I live, a fierce windstorm ripped apart, uprooted and toppled 120 of our trees. A few of them hit our house. Foresters call this Catastrophic Windthrow.

It was catastrophic for us. At first we wanted to sell and move away. We decided to stay and heal the land we love.

After carefully lifting the logs over the fragile stream, we milled the logs into lumber and transformed our rusted steel barn into a beautiful studio and workshop space. Working with the crews through each step in the process was cathartic for me.

After the last workers left I laced up my boots again, but this time I headed up the hill and into the clearcuts with camera and tripod. I’ve always opposed clearcutting and view them as assaults to the eye and to the land, but now I wanted to look at what comes after the clearcut.

Working forests have three distinct phases, and from some vantage points all three are layered in a rolling mosaic. Phase one is the clearcut. The burn phase begins after the clearcut when the limbs are piled into cone shapes and burned in the fall and early winter. With spring comes phase three, when the Doug Fir seedlings are planted. In forty years or so the trees will be clearcut again.

As industrialized landscapes these forests are amazingly efficient. I struggle emotionally and philosophically with the process. What have we lost since replacing diverse wild forests with controlled, predictable tree farms?

Visit artist's site: davidpaulbayles.com

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Colleen Mullins

Colleen Mullins

I found out about Colleen Mullins’s work when I was looking into the folks who would be speaking at the SPE NW regional conference last month. Mullins didn’t present her own work (she instead gave an awesome talk about photo book publishing), but when I saw her series Elysium on her website, I was drawn in. The photos are poignant and at times humorous, and the message is hard-hitting. Elysium, a decade-long examination of the urban forest of New Orleans, documents the state of city’s trees since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused a 70% canopy loss. “The trees of New Orleans have since suffered unbelievable indignities at the hands of man,” writes the artist.

From the artist’s statement: In discussing his work 7000 Oak Trees (7000 Eichen), Joseph Beuys said, “The intention of such a tree-planting event is to point up the transformation of all life, of society, and of the whole ecological system.” The treatment of the urban forest of New Orleans in the last decade of recovery from Hurricane Katrina, points to the strange relationship we have with nature as urban dwellers.

We seem to hold a cultural belief that if it is an Eden we planted, we have eminent domain over the territory it occupies. While sometimes their deformities can be perceived as comical, the impact of this loss will be faced by New Orleans residents for decades to come. Absent street signs, and often the houses themselves, these trees were frequently the only signifiers to tell me that I’d returned to a site to photograph. Imagine if the tree was not a marker for a photograph, but a marker for your home.

Visit artist's site: colleenmullins.net

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SPE NW Conference, Corvallis

It had been a number of years, but the weekend before last, my best friend Daniel Quay and I were able to attend an SPE conference together, this time at OSU in Corvallis, Oregon. We arrived a bit too late to make it to any of the workshops on time, so we walked around the art building, got settled at our Airbnb, and went back to the campus for the keynote speaker, Richard Misrach (this post’s featured image is from his Border Cantos). I fondly remember scanning this beloved image from an old issue of Contact Sheet or Aperture to add to the visual resource collection at one of my internships (and posting about it here back when this was more of a personal blog), and I’d be lying if I said this talk wasn’t 100% of the reason I wanted to go to this conference. It definitely lived up to my expectations.

Talks I attended on Saturday were David P. Bayles’s “From Chainsaw to Camera: A Life with Trees,” Colleen Mullins’s “Shark Tank – Photography Book Edition,” Tara Champion’s “Modern Documentary Practices: A case study of working with Yup’ik Eskimos on the Yukon Delta, Alaska,” Larry Landis’s “Photography for the People: 125 Years of Photographic Instruction at Oregon State University,” Eirik Johnson’s “Sharing Experience – or How I Learned to Love Collaboration,” and a conversation with Rafael Soldi and Christopher Russell at the Corvallis Arts Center.

I learned so much! I enjoyed every talk I went to. I think I used to expect a lot from going to SPE; the Midwest region has so many members, and every conference I went to there was full of energy and discovery and connections being made. These days, I find I’m just so satisfied listening to people talk about art and learning the stories behind beautiful images. Something else I appreciated was how much of the content was focused on the environment and conservation. I think that’s an aspect of the Northwest region, and I’m happy to be a part of it.

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Wayne Levin

Wayne Levin

Wayne Levin’s underwater photographs are different than any I’ve seen before, and not just because they’re black and white. They feel timeless – at the same time prehistoric and futuristic – and raw, making me think more about the individual lives of the creatures pictured and less about how pretty they are to look at. Levin’s website showcases hundreds of images that elicit intense wonder and amazement for the ocean and its inhabitants. I find myself spending minutes with each photograph, looking at every detail; the light and textures of the ocean truly do feel out of this world.

From the artist’s statement: I feel that the Ocean is an entity of incredible power, and every time I enter the ocean I am very clear that I am putting myself within a world that is far more powerful and vast than me, and it is only by its grace that I return. When I descend beneath the surface, I feel like I am Alice passing through that looking glass into a totally different world. Or am I Cocteau’s Orpheus passing through the mirror into the underworld? When I descend beneath the surface I am in a world with different rules, different truths. Things look different, light acts differently, gravity pulls differently. One can fly, or at least float over the landscape, or seascape. When I descend into this wonderland, I want to make images, not to explain or clarify that world, but to deepen the mystery.

Visit artist's site: waynelevinimages.com

Found via: Lenscratch

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Kelly Cassel

Kelly Cassel

Since I started working on At Rest, my own series of photographs depicting memorials I had built surrounding roadkill animals, over six years ago, I have always reacted strongly to the work of other artists who honor dead animals. Tamany Baker, Portia Munson, Maria Ionova-Gribina – those I know of can be found in the “memorial” tag. Kelly Cassel’s Memento Mori, which I was thrilled to find out about via another artist, calls to mind Fleur Alston’s Kit and Caboodle – both series feature painstaking attention to detail and perfect circles. There’s something about Cassel’s work that feels fresh, and almost gritty. The light is so even, it seems supernatural or otherworldly, and looking at the pictures, I feel like I can smell the soil and the vegetation. I love Cassel’s mention of bones in her statement. It makes me think of the innate structure in all things – rituals, life, nature, death.

From the artist’s statement: Death rituals are something that is almost singular to humanity. While they vary from culture to culture, the idea stays the same that a life is being honored and passed on. “Memento Mori” showcases the skeletons of wild animals placed within memorials of natural elements. There is a loss for the ecosystem but also a gain through the nutrients and life provided through the animal returning to the ground. With a focus on the skeletal structure left behind, juxtaposed with some recently deceased animals, the series emphasizes that in the end we are all reduced to bone. These bones too once carried life, one that would have gone unrecognized and abandoned had I not found it. These images immortalize the animal and honor it as just as valuable as human life. There’s something beautifully tragic about death and the process of decay.

Visit artist's site: kellycassel.com

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Bego Antón

Bego Antón

I think Bego Antón is one of my all-time favorite photography artists. Every time I see new work by her, I feel so charmed. Each of her photographs is composed and executed perfectly, and no matter the content (butterfly watchers, dead animals in the snow), there’s such an air of loveliness. If there’s not a smack of tragedy or some other complex meaning, there’s definitely humor, and that’s what really draws me to the series Everybody Loves to ChaChaCha. Truly, it’s not often that photography projects involving animals bring me nothing but joy, but these pictures just make me so happy.

From the artist’s statement: This is the story of women and men who dance with their dogs; and of dogs who dance with their humans. Musical Canine Freestyle is a choreographed performance in which a dog and a human move to music together. They choose a song they both like and a costume that matches the lyrics. They dance in unison, as dancing partners. They weave, jump, bow, spin, roll, walk backwards, forward or move diagonally. And sometimes, the bond between them is so strong that they enter the pink bubble, a dimension where they become one being and the rest of the world disappears.

Visit artist's site: begoanton.com

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Nina Young

Nina Young

When Nina Young introduced me to her work, my first thought was that it makes a good companion project to Miska Draskoczy’s Gowanus Wild, featured recently. Both artists inspect the contaminated industrial environment of areas in Brooklyn, New York, and its overtaking of nature. Young’s pictures contain bits of hope or signs of nature’s resilience, and there is a playful quality to them that I admire. I enjoy almost having to take a second to find the industrial element in each landscape, or to realize what is off in these depictions of fields and plants and pools of water.

From the artist’s statement: “Still Time” consists of photographs of brownfields: contaminated or abandoned land areas that must undergo environmental clean-up before they can be used again. I am driven to find whatever signs of the natural environment are left at these sites and include them in my photographs. I call this work “Still Time” because I seek to inject stillness and a greater sense of space and possibility into these areas. Perhaps there is still time for these places to be vibrant. To borrow from C.G. Jung, I hope to “uncover the potentiality of life which has been overgrown by civilization.”

Visit artist's site: ninasyoung.com

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Corbett Toomsen

Corbett Toomsen

When I was in middle school, I visited Yellowstone National Park for the first (and, so far, only) time. Even having grown up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, I remember being blown away by all the wildlife my family and I saw. I shot several rolls of film on my little point-and-shoot camera, some of my first. It was a really formative experience for me as a young person interested in animals and photography.

When I saw Corbett Toomsen’s series Trophies, I instantly thought back to that trip, and not only because of the subject matter. The images have a playful and whimsical tone, as if the animals are about to be animated stop-motion-style. They remind me of being a child. The pictures seem unreal, and in a way, they are. The series, and in particular its process, makes me think about what constitutes a “real” experience with animals and nature, both in a country where nature is so controlled and in a time when taking and sharing photos is a way to prove you were indeed somewhere, you did indeed experience it.

From the artist’s statement: We take snapshots of the moments in our lives, and these images have personal value. The cultural value of the snapshot is that, collectively, they serve as a genuine recording of society from within. “Trophies” is my contribution. However, with this work, the photographs do not intend to serve as a recording of society from within, but as a reflection of the ways photography contributes to our experiences today. They investigate the personal process of embarking on a journey through impersonal sources, and represent an abbreviated sampling of a common cultural practice.

Imagery frames our expectations of things. But today, in an image-flooded world, the process of viewing imagery of places has also become a suitable replacement for the actual experience. “Trophies” is a series of constructed snapshots of a journey through the American West, specifically of places I have not visited. The project relies on mass-media imagery, both in print and digital formats. Days spent searching and gathering, one word at a time. And even more days driving on Google Street View, touring the back highways and National Parks fifty yards at a time – click, zoom! Stop!, click, zoom! Stop!, click, zoom! Stop! for hours on end – looking at the scenery the road and the sky. It inspired a search for documentaries about American history and National Parks and made me aware of the television programs I watch, sometimes photographing them to add to the archive. Each day I arrived in my studio, and immediately left – consumed by the familiar imagery of places unfamiliar, gathering as I traveled.

A powerful aspect of travel photography is its inherent ability to urge one ‘to experience,’ firsthand, but more so it urges one to make his/her own copy. From the gathering I re-enact the days traveling, construct places along the journey that I did not experience, rather merely visited; surrounded by sand and rocks and water and paint, surrounded by the tools that carved mountains from plaster, and the tiny paper animals captured along the journey. I am surrounded by artificial trees and die cast metal buses and glue. With flashlights and rags in hand, I am surrounded by the constant whirl of the projector, hunting the ideal image, and the missed opportunities. Within the darkness of my studio, the model lit just right, I transcend, if only for an instance, from this space I occupy to that place locked in the viewfinder, documenting the journey as journeys are so often documented – as a trophy of my experience.

Visit artist's site: corbetttoomsen.com

Found via: Lenscratch

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Lauren Grabelle

Lauren Grabelle

Lauren Grabelle has been making photographs for a long time. I remember when she emailed me about her work several years ago, I was so drawn to her series Natural Boundaries, which felt very “now” and fit right in with a lot of the work I was looking at (and making) – and I was surprised to learn that the pictures were made in the early and mid-1990s, all on Kodachrome. In more recent years, Lauren has been turning her camera to her dog, Sugar, and is now anticipating her first solo exhibition, Sugar Rising, opening next week at Washington State University (WSU) College of Veterinary Medicine, Pullman, WA.

One day in September 2015, Lauren’s Weimaraner, Sugar, became completely paralyzed in her back legs. I remember seeing Lauren’s updates on social media, feeling so sad for her and thinking that Sugar was probably old and simply nearing the end of her days (I was confronting my own pet’s slowing down at the time). But Sugar was only ten years old, and after she was misdiagnosed by three local vets, Lauren traveled six hours from Montana to WSU to take advantage of the medical technology available there, all the while worried terribly about the potential for expensive surgery, or worse, euthanizing her dog. At WSU, a neurologist pointed to Sugar’s MRI, which showed that she had a staph infection in her spine. After two days of antibiotics, Sugar was standing, and began to make a remarkable comeback from paralysis thanks to the MRI that saved her life.

Sugar is now 12 years old, hiking and doing the outdoor activity she loves. Sugar Rising is an overview of Sugar’s varied and adventurous life, including her slow, undiagnosed decline to paralysis and her complete recovery. Learn more about Sugar’s story on the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine website.

Sugar Rising opens September 7 at the WSU Animal Health Library and is on view through January 2018. An opening reception will be held Thursday, September 7, 4-6 p.m.

Visit artist's site: laurengrabelle.com

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Daniel Mirer

Daniel Mirer

When I saw this post’s featured image, Camper Landscape, Yosemite National Park, California, in a post on Feature Shoot about the winners of Ken Allen Studios’ spring photo contest (from last June), I knew that artist Daniel Mirer and I had something in common. I love the giant photographic murals covering the camper vehicles you see all over the West these days, and whenever I spot one, I try to line up the image with something in the landscape. I immediately reacted to Mirer’s photo, and visited his website looking for a series of similar images. I was so pleased to find Indifferent West, a project containing more than 70 photographs about the sentimental, cliche, kitsch qualities of representations of the American West.

From the artist’s statement: “Indifferent West” is a photographic and video series that investigates the personification of a North American identity. The American West and its touristic architectural locations are linked to a contemporary landscape as metaphors. Through this project, I photograph the found and sentimental representations of the mythic frontier of the American West. The images are of touristic sites; places that are of the familiar and cliché but also create a picturesque image of an Americana landscape. Through the institutions that perpetuate the mythic models through tourism, the results are that the American West is an idea that has become a vast site for elements of kitsch about a space intersecting with the comic and history ripe for consumption.

These photographs represent private entertainment industries for tourism projecting the notions of the exotification of the romantic, untamed, hostile wilderness, seeming lifeless and void, which becomes wrapped in mythology attending to what is called the American West. The “West” had become a place where the Lone Ranger, Marlboro Man, and the Noble Savage were invented and where they continue to reside in the collective cultural unconscious of the American cultural identity. The western landscape is re-contextualized from reality and is indifferent to historical facts establishing an American psyche of the make-believe, which has become a self-referent notion of ambiguity.

Visit artist's site: danielmirer.com

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