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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.

Jo-Anne McArthur

Jo-Anne McArthur + We Animals

I cannot recall how or when I first found out about Jo-Anne McArthur’s animal-focused photojournalism, but I do remember my interest in the work she does being reinvigorated when a friend shared on Facebook the Washington Post article These haunting animal photos aim to make you reconsider a visit to the zoo. It features a fascinating and wonderfully thoughtful Q&A about McArthur’s new book, Captive. Through the photographs in Captive, McArthur aims to turn the conversation about animals in captivity toward the individual creatures who suffer in environments like zoos and aquariums, bored and without autonomy. The images are so affecting, haunting, and heartbreaking.

Jo-Anne McArthur has been documenting the complex relationship between humans and animals around the globe to create the long-term project We Animals, which spans 20 years and over 50 countries. Recently, McArthur launched the We Animals Archive, a resource for the animal movement, journalists, and educators. The archive is a collection of thousands of images and videos of animals in the human environment – those animals we use for food, clothing, research, experimentation, work, entertainment, and companionship – that are available for free to individuals, organizations, and media outlets around the world working to help animals. The We Animals Archive is the searchable repository for McArthur’s important ongoing work. I’m so happy to know about this incredible resource.

From the artist’s statement: I do this work because I don’t accept the cruelty we inflict on innocents. Because I’ve seen the useless suffering, and the dying. Because how we use and abuse animals is wrong. Because what we do to animals is an inexcusable and terrible abuse of power. Because this abuse needs to change immediately. Because it’s an emergency for billions of animals every day. Because animals value their lives, just as we do. I do this work so that we can see, and feel responsible (because we are all responsible for this), and change.”

McArthur is also the co-founder of the Unbound Project, which documents the women on the front lines of animal advocacy. This woman is legitimately my hero.

Visit artist site: joannemcarthur.com

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Emma Kisiel

Remembering Animals: Rituals, Artifacts & Narratives in Contemporary Art

I am so excited to share that this Saturday, February 10 is the opening of Remembering Animals: Rituals, Artifacts & Narratives in Contemporary Art at CSUN Art Galleries in Northridge, CA. The exhibition examines the ways in which contemporary artists contemplate and investigate aspects of animal death, from the very personal loss of a companion animal to the “invisible” animal deaths we are constantly surrounded by, including factory farmed and road-killed animals. Included in the show is a range of work by artists Steve Baker, Curtis Bartone, Joe Bautista, Linda Brant, Kathy High, Hyewon Keum, Sarah Perry, Julia Schlosser, Craig Stecyk, and myself. Visit the exhibition’s website, rememberinganimals.art to learn more.

In the exhibition catalog’s preface, curator Julia Schlosser writes: In this exhibition, we ask viewers to experience potentially difficult images of animals who have died and artworks made from their bodies. “Remembering Animals” hopes to create an intimate space where we can consider these artworks. Rather than turn away, we invite you to “bear witness” for a moment, and create an empathetic conduit with a non-human animal.

Animal death, like death in any form, is a challenging subject to encounter and embrace. Personally, many of us who have lived closely with pet or companion animals mourn their passing deeply. On a global level, non-human animal deaths exemplify many of the ways that we, as human animals, fall short in our efforts to manage our ecosystems and their inhabitants. From overwhelmingly large issues like factory farming, animal experimentation, and species extinction to the closer-to-home deaths of pets and road-killed animals, we’re all faced with difficult choices regarding our relationships with non-human animals every day. Jon Christensen points out that we live in “a world in which human agency is at once vast and ineffectual.” The nexus of our individual and collective decisions affects animals and the quality of their lives on the planet, whether we want them to or not. This exhibition examines the ways that artwork can and does speak not just about the animals themselves, but also about these larger issues.

In addition to the opening reception Saturday, February 10, 4-6 pm, Julia Schlosser will give a gallery talk on Monday, February 12, at 10 am, and Curtis Bartone will give an artist talk on Thursday, February 22, at 11 a.m. The exhibition is on view through March 17.

In conjunction with the exhibition is Julia Schlosser and Joe Bautista’s anilum: A Digital Candle-lighting Memorial Experience. With this web-based art piece, anyone can become a part of an online community celebrating the lives and mourning the loss of the animals that are important to us. As of this writing, there are 60 beautiful, touching contributions to the site (and one of my own, Candy.)

I am so looking forward to attending the exhibition opening this weekend and seeing the show, the gorgeous catalog created by Julia Schlosser, and anilum in person. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, go see this exhibition that’s sure to be incredible (and come say hi to me on Saturday!). I hope to share photos from the exhibition later this month.

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John James Audubon

John James Audubon

I’ve been posting content related to animals/nature and art here for almost nine years, and I’ve somehow never included the work of John James Audubon, truly one of my favorite artists of all time. Last Monday night, I went to a screening of the film Audubon: John James Audubon and the Birds of America at the Hollywood Theatre, put on by the Audubon Society of Portland.

I was surprised to realize how little I knew of Audubon before seeing this film. I didn’t know that Mill Grove, the Audubon family farm where Audubon lived when he first came to the US, is in Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia; or that he and his wife, Lucy, started their family in Henderson, KY, near the Kentucky/Indiana/Illinois border. I knew that Audubon had ties to New Orleans (I had been to the Audubon Insectarium), but I didn’t know how much time he spent there or how strong the connection was (in New Orleans is the Audubon Nature Institute, which consists of the Audubon Zoo, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Audubon Park, and more).

I had known the Audubon quote, “I wish I had eight pairs of hands, and another body to shoot the specimens” (it used to be the description on the Audubon blog I kept once upon a time) and had a love/hate relationship with it, but I appreciated that the film really emphasized the fact that while Audubon did kill the animals he depicted, he also spent a lot of time observing them in life. In fact, he couldn’t have made such accurate representations of the birds in movement if he didn’t know very well how they behaved in their natural habitat.

Last year there was a post about Birds of America, lauded as the world’s most expensive book, on Don’t Take Pictures. If you want to learn more about the production of this book, consisting of 435 hand-colored plates and depicting over 1,000 species of birds in life-size, that post is a great place to start.

All these images come from the University of Pittsburgh University Library System Digital Collections. The University of Pittsburgh owns one of the complete sets of Audubon’s Birds of America. Only 120 complete sets are known to exist. I tried to mostly include pieces that were featured in the film, but some of my favorites not mentioned snuck in there. I was happy that the documentary talked about my favorite Audubon piece, the Eskimo Curlew, the only dead bird (just dead, not being killed/eaten) that Audubon ever represented.

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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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