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