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An archive of contemporary artists who explore humans' interactions with animals and nature

Read the author's notes about relevant conferences, exhibitions, opportunities, etc.

Yatromanolakis Yorgos

Yorgos Yatromanolakis

Sometimes when I’m first looking at a body of work (it has to be the very first time), I note whatever pops into my head. Sometimes I think that’s better than trying to flesh out and articulate my reaction to the work.

I’ve never seen work like this before. It feels like a children’s story. It feels like clothing, in texture and colors. Fabric-like. I think of glowing, a sheen, metal, paper cutouts, shadow puppets, something animated, another Greek artist, Petros Koublis.

The project is accompanied by a bit of text, included below.

I returned back to the same place. I felt lost.
Within a strange tranquillity, something destructive arose inside me.
I had sunk into a quiet desperation. I denied my past.
I tried a hundred times to erase my memory. I was craving change. Flowing into the night, I became a wild animal.
I confronted nature and death. I wanted to live. Feel every moment. Walk against the whistling wind. Breathe and dive into the cold sea. Harvest moon. Everything caught in the fire.
I walked with her in the blue dusk. Following my heartbeat.
I lapsed into a transformation, an unexpected alignment with the stars.

From the artist’s statement: “The Splitting of the Chrysalis & the Slow Unfolding of the Wings” arose from my unforeseen return to my homeland and my residence there for four years. Isolated in the countryside of the island, Ι was constantly confronted with my traumatic past, my memories and myself. Gradually, through wandering in nature, a conceivable field of action was created within me, an intermediate space full of transformative dynamics, a place of becoming. I surrendered to the fluidity of this space, to a paradoxical and cosmogenic ceremony. I was faced with the most enigmatic aspects of myself; I was searching for a new reality in which I would be able to exist. These photographs are part of a notebook, constructed through this experience, attempting to capture the cycle of an internal process of metamorphosis.

Visit artist site: yatrom.net

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Sebastian Sardi

Sebastian Sardi

Sebastian Sardi began photographing coal mining communities in eastern India in 2008. In viewing his stark, weighty pictures, you can almost feel a layer of dust forming on your skin, smell the smoke and fire as the ground burns. Images and stories of people “digging in the soil with their bare hands” usually makes one think of hard yet meaningful labor, the rewards of working with the land, pride in feeling connected to the resources that keep us alive. But Sardi’s photos make me incredibly sad. The burning of coal to produce energy is a major contributor to global warming, and individuals and communities are harmed as people are forced to relocate as the ground beneath their feet is extracted. Sardi writes about the “fragile balance between nature and mankind,” and photos like these ultimately make me think of nothing but how when we harm our land we are truly an deeply harming ourselves.

Black Diamond will soon be published as a book in collaboration with German publisher Kehrer Verlag.

From the artist’s statement: It is an apocalyptic landscape. There are huge man-made craters everywhere that make up the visible landscape, the ground is burning, and a vast area is oozing with toxic gases, fire and smoke. Amongst all of this, there are people digging in the soil with their bare hands. Coal is mined everywhere in Jharkhand, India, and large parts of it is sorted by hand. The locals call it; “Black Diamond.” Energy produced by the burning of coal is the single biggest contributor to the man-generated carbon dioxide emissions. Coal is a major part in the issue of global warming. Many people have been forced away from these areas when companies and authorities recognized the richness that hides in the ground. Underground fires force people to relocate. The mining companies claim they are unable to put out the fires, while the locals blame the companies for letting the fires burn so the coal can be reached and excavated from underneath their villages. There is a fragile balance between nature and mankind. A sense of discomfort is felt in the slow but seemingly unavoidable struggle towards the collapse of nature. The human inability to break patterns is painstakingly visible in these photographs, as we knowingly keep on extracting the ground beneath our own feet. “Black Diamond” is a close (self-)portrait of the people who work with extracting coal from the ground, as well as an exploration of our dualistic human nature and how one self relates to the outside world while being a part of it.

Visit artist site: sebastiansardi.com

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Darren Clark

Darren Clark

When I met Darren Clark at SPE in September, I learned that he had a collection of dead animal photographs. Normally, while this intrigues me, it does not necessarily mean there’s enough considered material to include in a feature on MH. I often feel like “If it was qualified to be a series, it would have been edited into one.” That’s not how I felt when I saw Darren’s photographs. Instead, I felt like I was on a road trip through the northwestern United States in winter, spotting roadkill animals left and right. I keep thinking about the light in these pictures, how I feel like I know that bright, high-contrast wintertime light, and it looks so much more abrasive in my mind than in these photographs. Here it looks controlled, soft, dare I say pleasant (I really dislike the bright sunlight of the high desert). From these photos, I can tell that Darren both spends a lot of time in nature and has respect and reverence for it, even when it’s gory, gritty, macabre, “brutal.”

From the artist’s statement: I’m primarily a landscape photographer (I guess). I’m also a compulsive bird watcher. These pursuits afford me a lot of time in the natural (whatever that means) world. I usually work on specific projects, but am open to observing and documenting oddities, tragedies, beauty, and other surprising experiences with my surroundings. This selection of photographs is a collections of random tragic encounters from the last few years of living in the high desert of eastern Idaho, the beautiful, brutal, boring, difficult and wonderful place I call home.

Visit artist site: darrenclarkphoto.com

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Luis Castelo

Luis Castelo

When Luis Castelo emailed me some of his photos, I was attracted to their odd colors and lighting and their intense selective focus. I spent quite a while looking at the pictures before I read that this series, Historiae Naturalis, is an example of the artist’s broad use of the “scannography” technique when making interpretations of nature. I don’t know how he does it. I cannot figure out how these images were made with a scanner, but I’m so intrigued.

From the artist’s statement: Our bond with the animal world is evident. In spite of a gradual distancing of this relation during the XX century, we are now witnessing the necessary reunion with our distant relations. We had to wait for the scientism of the XIX century to explain the existence of these animals, which, until then, we had only heard about in myths and legends. The determination of scientists and naturalists of the age to explain the world resulted in a huge representation of animals from distant colonies overseas. Scientific expeditions were at their peak and the search for and classification of both unknown territories and their flora and fauna was highly favoured.

Embalming has a close relationship to photography since both embalm time and life in one instant forever. The attempt to offer a suggestion of life in death by freezing poses or gestures links taxidermy intimately and necessarily to photography. Embalming photography represents naturalized beings in two ways: it leaves death in suspense through the gaze of the subject photographed and offers an everlasting vision of the ephemeral lives of living creatures through the representation of “still lives,” in both cases, after all, vanitas.

Visit artist site: luiscastelo.com

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Joseph O. Holmes

Joseph O. Holmes

Discovering Joseph O. Holmes’s work recently was a wonderful consequence of just wanting to browse some home decor art on 20×200. As soon as I saw those silhouettes against museum dioramas (two of my favorite things), I was hooked. I enjoyed reading about Holmes’s experience making pictures in the style of street photography (one that’s more controlled, slower) inside a museum hall. When the work was still new to me, I remember flipping through LCD on Homes’s website for a while and feeling like the images became less exciting. But when I zoomed out and saw the images as a grid, I realized the effect is there, in these soft, muted rainbow checkerboard fields. The background in each picture is a wash of glowing color or sometimes an abstract blur of lines – rarely an animal that one can just barely decipher. In the project as a whole, I really love how the humans pictured are always nondescript black shapes, and all the color and brightness is in the diorama scenes.

From the artist’s statement for amnh and LCDStreet photography is my passion – a wild mix of technical skill and social engineering, with every component changing and evolving second by second. The original “amnh” series was shot over a period of six weeks in New York’s American Museum of Natural History, and spun my love of street photography into a radically different environment, a sort of off-the-street photography. The project carried me from sunlight into museum darkness, from rapid-fire to a zen-like slow motion, and forced me to rethink the whole process of stalking strangers. These images strip the components of traditional street photo down to the barest cues: silhouettes gazing out over vast, artificial veldts and jungles.

To create the images for the “LCD” series, I photographed visitors at New York’s American Museum of Natural History over a period of four months in 2008 and 2009. I based all choices about focus, white balance, color, contrast, etc. solely on the LCD screen that is captured in each image; the rest of the image was allowed to fall where it may. Other than those adjustments, the images are unaltered.

Visit artist site: josephholmes.io

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Sheng Wen Lo

Sheng Wen Lo

There’s a Peter Marlow photo that I love, “A bear sits alone in a pit in Kaliningrad zoo,” taken in Russia. The moment when I saw Sheng Wen Lo’s series White Bear, I thought of this image. It’s curious how pictures like these have the power to incite intense emotions in the viewer, when generally people do not seem to be upset experiencing what’s depicted firsthand.

When I reached out to Sheng, he sent me a comprehensive press kit, and I pored over every file inside. Reading his thoughts and writings about his work was fascinating, and I feel that many of his ideas will affect the way I think about animals and the making of my own photography. There’s so much that I want to share. In the spirit of treating this space as a collection of the artwork I love, and compiling all the information I can find about it, I’ll break the format I traditionally use and begin with Sheng’s artist statement.

From the artist’s statement: “White Bear” depicts polar bears on display and their artificial habitats globally; the project attempts to engage with dilemmas concerning captive animal programs. It has been executed in 26 sites across Europe and China.

“White Bear” is not about polar bears — it studies the visible symptoms amid animals on display and their artificial habitats by focusing on one specific species. These habitats are designed to satisfy both the spectators (audience) and the dwellers (animals). With their effort to mimic the arctic environment, the uncanny structures combined “nature,” “home” and “stage.” Juxtaposed with man-made backgrounds, the enclosures and their furry protagonists formed visions decorated with contrasting elements — grasslands, plateaus, swimming pools, car tires, fake seals, stone stairs, painted icebergs, yachts, airplanes, and even skyscrapers. Under limited space and resources, there are various issues lurking beneath their surfaces.

As natural habitats are being destroyed, it may be reasonable to keep certain species in controlled environments; however, it remains questionable whether some results reflect their causes. The existence of captive white bears portrays this ambiguity. Promoted as exotic tourist-magnets (mega fauna), the bears stand at the singularity points at which the institutions’ contemporary justifications fall into question — the mission of conservation, research and education seem challenged by the interest of entertainment.

Sheng does not subscribe to the belief that “all captive animal programs are evil” or “zoos should not exist,” because, as he states, “animal issues are complex and intertwined with each other.” In an interview about his work, I read that Sheng wishes to avoid anthropomorphism, that he “would not like to make pictures of ‘sad looking’ animals.” He says, “That is not very scientific.”

“I would like to propose another way of looking at animal issues,” Sheng says. “Because when facing these issues, it is very easy to get emotional and let our preconceptions dominate our judgements. In a lot of cases I would argue that is not what [is] best for the animals in the end. There may be a lot of benefits to discuss things scientifically, and make a balance when making judgements.”

While White Bear focuses on polar bears, the project is more broad, using photographs of one species to explore “captive wild animals on display, the dilemma between its intension and cost.” Sheng says, “It is not about whether animals are suitable for captive programs, but rather about whether some animals are not the ideal species to be kept in captivity. Therefore, [I] focused on one particular species, which I believed stand at the crux of this dilemma. In other words, while some animals may benefit from captive programs and serve conservation, education and research purposes, there are species that seems naturally unsuited for artificial habitats.”

Finally, of their man-made habitats, Sheng asks, “I understand it is difficult to use a real iceberg but what is the point of [not] just paint[ing] one instead? Rationally, these bears are born in captivity, so they have probably never seen a real iceberg or a sea lion. I wonder who are the users of these visual objects, and whether the enclosures are homes or stages?”

At first I was attracted to these really beautiful photos that at the same time made me laugh and broke my heart. After spending the better part of a day reading the artist’s words about the work, I feel like I have an entirely new set of considerations to make when photographing animals and when visiting and thinking about zoos. I’m so grateful to know about this work.

Visit artist site: shengwenlo.com

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Catherine Marcogliese

Catherine Marcogliese

Probably my earliest experience of taxidermy is as something mystifying and spooky. It was always exciting to see, especially in an artfully lit natural history museum exhibit, but it was also a little scary to be so close to an animal that I had never seen before, that in its life was wild and dangerous. When looking at the images in Catherine Marcogliese’s series Natural History: Ghosts and Monsters, I can’t tell if the animals look more terrifying or terrified. Like “bad taxidermy” tends to be, some of them are funny. But the animals pictured also make me sad. I imagine the creatures making these expressions as their lives were taken, trying to fend off an attacker or in sheer pain or fright, and now that’s all that’s left of them.

Marcogliese’s photos were taken at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Marseille, France, Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulouse, and the Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia, Italy. It’s interesting to consider how styles and practices in taxidermy shift over time or from one region/country to another. I feel like animals used to be depicted as taxidermy in a way that highlighted their aggression and power. Now (and in America), we seem to crave ways of seeing animals that remind us that we are not so different, that they are not beasts but beings with souls akin to our own.

From the artist’s statement: This series of photos attempts to capture the surprising and often bizarre creatures that populate the display cases of museums of natural history. The skulls, skeletons and stuffed animals, with their frozen horrified stares, remnants of passed exploration and classification, tell us as much about our society and our relationship to nature, as they do about the science. They are the haunting witnesses to an era when nature was strange and frightening, something to be controlled, classified, and catalogued.

The photos are presented as portraits, and reworked to accentuate the strangeness of these creatures. I have tried to capture the wonder and awe that I experienced as a young child when visiting museums of natural history. I remember these museums as being dark, dusty, and mysterious – their displays seemingly inhabited by creatures from some gothic fairy tale. The ghostly presence of these specimens in my photographs reflects my tenuous memories of these visits.

Visit artist site: marcogliese.org

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Kellie Smith

Kellie Smith

I honestly have little to say about Kellie Smith’s body of work, Undertaker, aside from an emphatic “Yes.” I felt that way so strongly when first seeing the images, and possibly even more so when reading the accompanying statement. I think this is a lovely, important, beautiful project. After featuring both Julia Schlosser’s and Mary Shannon Johnstone’s work examining companion animal death last month, and thinking a lot about the subject while working on an exhibition proposal the past few weeks, it felt so perfectly fitting to discover Kellie’s lumen prints made using the bodies of dead animals. All three of these artists have explored this heavy topic by making process-oriented photographs, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. There’s something about this taboo subject, the process of grieving an animal, whether it’s wild or a dear friend, that seems to drive artists to create something tactile, using a process that is physical and takes work and time and stillness.

From the artist’s statement: Two dogs, two cats, and a horse that I grew up with died the summer before this project. These pets were very dear to me and I have had many memories with them. The separation from them inspired me to look closer at the bond that humans and animals form. The pain that I feel from the end of their existence leaves me with a longing to bring back their presence, and motivates me to bring to life the aura or soul that I knew they possessed.

What if every animal was given the chance to form a relationship with a human, and therefore given the chance for their soul or spirit to be recognized? The purpose of my project is to bring animals’ presence of existence to a tangible form, especially if they were wild and never interacted with a human. In a similar way that an undertaker bee will carry a fellow bee back to the hive after it dies or is killed, I take the dead animals I find back to my studio, and attempt to humanize them and capture their being.

Many of the animals that I have access to died tragically on the highway and are battered, bloody, and broken. To overcome this grotesque imagery and express the beauty of their remains, I create lumen prints from their body. The photosensitive, black and white darkroom paper reacts with the animal’s biological components and illustrates the presence of their body. To honor the animal, their life, and their being, I adorn them with flowers and other components of nature. These elements pronounce the importance and beauty of the soul the animals possessed during their life. Much like a funeral undertaker will care for the body of the dead and exalt the deceased, I prepare the animal’s body for their final appearance, embellish them with flowers for a composition on the paper, then bury them in their final resting place.

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Christina Heurig

Christina Heurig

Christina Heurig is an art director, set designer, and photographer based in Germany (Berlin) and Switzerland. When she approached me about her work, I was blown away by her diverse portfolio. In addition to making photographic portraits, building miniature models for puppetry theatre and animated films, and designing sets for theatre and film, Christina makes fine art photographs that are beautifully produced. Using elements of surrealism, mystery, and fantasy, Christina “illustrate[s] and explore[s] emotional or cognitive layers of the soul.” I was really intrigued by a handful of “experiments” she had sent me, making scans of taxidermy animals. I’d never seen anything like them before. A series of the images, called Nightly Visitors, is now on her website, and I think it’s some of my favorite photography that I’ve discovered in a long time.

From the artist’s statement for Nightly VisitorsTaxidermied animals are dragged over a flatbed scanner to create grotesque creatures. Partly sinister, partly amusing, these characters recreate the feeling of a nightmarish freak show. Enjoy the ride!

Visit artist site: heartmill.com

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Michael Koch

Michael Koch

In his series eternal collection, German photographer Michael Koch “combines photographs of nature and science and its (re)presentation.” According to the artist, the pictures explore “the space between the imagined and real.” Isolated in fields of gray or black, taxidermy animals, specimens, and skeletons are presented objectively, yet in a way that’s slightly unsettling. There’s such a variety of contrast in the pictures. In many of them, there’s a flatness that’s disorienting and at the same time pleasant; it’s as if everything non-essential has been smoothed away. I love the mystery that this quality adds, particularly in the photograph Parental Care, of a bird with a nest. I feel like I’m looking into a diorama in a natural history museum, searching for the representation of an animal that’s only active in low light.

Visit artist site: michael-koch.jimdo.com

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