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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.

Tara Champion

Tara Champion

At the SPE NW regional conference in October, I got to see the talk “Modern Documentary Practices: A case study of working with Yup’ik Eskimos on the Yukon Delta, Alaska” by environmental photojournalist Tara Champion. Champion presented some excellent photographs from other projects she has worked on – all exploring how climate change affects cultures and ecosystems – but it was her series about Yup’iik (Yup’ik) Eskimos, the largest group of Alaskan natives still living on their traditional lands, that I found so interesting and beautiful. Of the Yup’iik, Champion writes, “Their civilization has weathered epidemics, missionaries, and outside influences but as a subsistence culture their connection to the land remains firm. Elders who remember life before contact with the outside world are aging but their value system, living in balance with nature, is being passed to a new generation. Now they are fighting to retain their cultural identity as the very land they depend on is transformed by climate change.”

From the artist’s statement: I lost feeling in my hands hours ago, the tears forced out of my eyes by the whipping wind have frozen to my cheeks, the snowmobile beneath my body jerks and bumps along with such violence I know I will find bruises tomorrow. I bury my face into the back of Matthew Jr., who skillfully dodges through the willow forests and along the frozen rivers used as roads in winter. Another hour goes by as I wonder why I am here, what am I thinking, this is how I will die… we break out into another clearing, and stop on a large frozen river in the shadow of the only mountains for hundreds of miles. I stumble off the back of the snowmobile and take in the scene. Here, hours from any village are dozens of families laughing, playing, and picnicking while they manaq (ice fish): just a typical Saturday family outing. These are the industrious peoples whose connection to this harsh landscape has been passed down through the generations. I am truly an outsider, but here on the ice for the next ten hours, I am an adopted Yup’iik. I have asked to understand what it is to be Yup’iik and slowly I am shown.

Visit artist site: tarachampionphotography.com

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Joke Schut

Joke Schut

What I knew about Joke Schut from an email she sent me a few years ago was that she made beautiful documentary portraits (of humans). This fall, I was excited to learn that Schut is also interested in making the same thoughtful, deep photographs of dogs. In her two series Dogs of Rotterdam (part of the photo contest De Kracht van Rotterdam in 2016) and Shelter Dogs, Schut explores two different sides of life with dogs. In the former, she captures the love between owners and their dogs, the humans smiling and prideful. In the latter, owner-less dogs are the subject of dreary yet sometimes hopeful images. Both projects have me wanting to go home and snuggle my own dog.

Visit artist site: jokeschut.nl

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J. Matt

J. Matt

I continue to find myself drawn to two types of photography: documents of the mass of people who visit tourist spots, and explorations of our giant world that highlight the tininess of humans. J. Matt’s series At the Water’s Edge is a bit of both. Living and working principally in California, J. Matt is interested in “the intersections of history, public and private spaces, and the ways in which we have constructed the developed world around us.” His views of coastal locations show a special attention to places where the land meets the water, and have me thinking about what it means to enjoy a place as well as care for it.

From the artist’s statement: The coast is where politics was reputed to stop and a place which polite society once wrote off as an unredeemable and dangerous wilderness. Now one of the most politically contested and environmentally burdened regions on the earth, our coasts face rising sea levels, depleted resources and unsupportable population densities. As coastal resource use and access are debated in the public sphere, ordinary people travel to the coast for recreation in record numbers. How they interact with and understand what they find there is of incredible importance as all of humanity faces difficult questions about stewardship of the earth’s meteorological environment, oceans, and coastal regions.

Visit artist site: tinyshocks.com

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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 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 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 site: waynelevinimages.com

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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 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 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 site: ninasyoung.com

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