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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.

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 site: danielmirer.com

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Areca Roe

Areca Roe

I fell in love with Areca’s work several years ago, when I found out about her series Habitat through fellow animal artist Calder Kamin. I’m a sucker for square images, and I think the subtle, quiet, and mysterious qualities in Areca’s photography are so lovely. I first saw Areca’s later project, Housebroken, a few years ago and I can’t believe I’ve never featured it here. Like Tatiana Gulenkina’s series Second Nature, the images show atypical pets, but they’re in conventional domestic spaces. The pictures are odd, funny, at times off-putting, and very beautiful.

From the artist’s statement: For this project, I photographed unusual pets in their domestic environments. Over the past three years, I’ve photographed creatures such as snakes, hedgehogs, pot-bellied pigs, and ferrets in their homes. The pets are fascinating animals, to be sure, but their relationship with the owners has an element of ambiguity—it is not as clear and established as the companionship and comfort offered by dogs and cats. I explore the elements of these relationships, and the tensions that occur between the apparent wildness of the creature and its tame, domestic surroundings of soft textures and clutter. Conversely, some of the animals almost blend into their domestic surroundings, as if their camouflage has adapted to the new environment. I collaborated with the owners in choosing the photo locations, backgrounds, and scenarios within the home.

Housebroken is available as a book, which can be purchased here.

Visit artist site: arecaroe.com

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William Finley & Herman T. Bohlman

William Finley & Herman T. Bohlman

Early last month, I attended a wonderful talk by the Oregon Historical Society in partnership with the Audubon Society of Portland, “Hunting Birds with a Camera: How William Finley and Herman T. Bohlman Used Photography to Save Oregon’s Birds,” of “On the Road with Finley and Bohlman: Portland.” The presentation was a retrospective on the work of early twentieth century nature photographers William Finley, Irene Finley, and Herman T. Bohlman, whose photographs and tireless dedication to education captivated the public and resulted in the protection of public lands across Oregon and the first laws to protect wild birds in Oregon.

Scaling trees, fording rivers, and braving Oregon’s most rugged landscapes, the team went to almost any lengths to capture Oregon’s birds on film. It was so fun to see not only the incredible wildlife photographs made but images of the photographs in the making, of Finley and Bohlman knee-deep in swamps or high up in trees, and of birds perched in the hands or on the shoulders of the photographers and the people around them. The scenes captured are almost unbelievable; depicted are certainly not the typical situations in which we can find ourselves with birds and animals in America today.

Finley and Bohlman left behind an astounding legacy of natural history photography and writing, land protection, and grassroots advocacy. More than 6,000 photographic images and 8,600 pages of documents – nearly 50 years of work (1899-1946) – are being released online from the collections of the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon State University. The Reuniting Finley and Bohlman collection on the Oregon Historical Society’s Digital Collections website is where the images featured here come from. I have spent hours going through the currently 3,565 (copyright-free, high resolution) images presented there, marveling at all kinds of gorgeous photos of animals in the West. Of course, I am drawn to pictures of dead animals, hunted and presumably found as carcasses and skeletons, but also curious images of humans and animals interacting in amazing, storybook-like ways.

Sources: Oregon Historical Society; Audubon Society of Portland

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Alex Grabiec

Alex Grabiec

When I first looked at Alex Grabiec’s work, I must have been fresh off seeing David Kressler’s Viewpoints series, because in my mind I paired the two together. To me, both projects explored similar themes – how we experience the natural world, the ways we sculpt and curate the remaining “wild” areas around us, the oddness of combining the man-made with the natural. It wasn’t until I read Grabiec’s statement that I began to pick up on another layer present in the photographs, one more sentimental and personal. I appreciate the series’ play on both “east” as a place and “back,” as in back and forth a particular distance on a regular journey or back in time, in a memory or a place that may no longer exist.

From the artist’s statement: This body of work, titled “back east,” is a group of peripatetic images that offer oblique hints to the transitory nature of place and experience. Photographed along a weekly four-hour commute between a professional life in Baltimore and family life rural Virginia, the series reflects on the desire for home and the resulting perpetual search for it. Within this personal narrative, interweaving subtexts of demarcation, construction, distance, and longing consider the relative ideas of ‘back’ and ‘east’ [and] in doing so [propose] that memory, hopes, and experiences are always in another time, and always somewhere else.

Visit artist site: alexgrabiec.com

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Mattias Amnäs

Mattias Amnäs

Like Miska Draskoczy’s work a couple of weeks ago, Mattias Amnäs’s photography had me thinking about my roots in photography. For my first project in a color photography class my sophomore year of college, I created pictures of “color boundaries,” spots that showed divisions in fields of color amongst the urban buildings in my new-to-me city. My images included a lot of fences, walls, telephone lines – and often funny sights in quirky Baltimore, not dissimilar from the geometric hedges and satellite dishes of Amnäs’s series, Scotland.

When Amnäs contacted me, he introduced his pictures from his trip “to the Scottish highlands, Glasgow and Edinburgh, were [he] documented the interaction of sheep, waste, nature and traffic cones.” Based on this text, I had to know more. Amnäs told me, “In early May, I went for a road tip in Scotland. It was my first trip to the UK and I brought my Pentax 6×7 from 1969 on my shoulder, along with 20 rolls of film. I was mesmerized by Scotland’s nature and architecture. Along the roads in Glasgow, you could see a city filled with quick fixes, buildings with facades that hadn’t been cleaned for decades, so much character. Along the roads in the Highlands, you could see all the litter of tourism, sheep everywhere, and the overwhelming usage of traffic cones. Something about it made it feel so surreal, almost like stepping in to a David Lynch film set.”

From the artist’s statement: I’m a graphic designer and photographer based in Stockholm, Sweden. I like exploring the visual languages of ar­chi­tec­ture, landscape and the interactions between people and their surroundings. I consider myself a documentary photographer rather then a conceptual series photographer. I don’t like to tell the viewer what the photograph is about, I want them to look at it and build their own story.

Visit artist site: mattiasamnas.com

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Mary Shannon Johnstone

Mary Shannon Johnstone

I remember first being turned on to Mary Shannon Johnstone’s work by an instructor of mine back in 2010. I was photographing inside an old animal shelter in Denver that was about to move to a nice, new facility, and I had been passionate about companion animal overpopulation, adoption versus breeding, and the power of hard-to-look-at images for as long as I could remember. I saw Shannon’s project Breeding Ignorance, about euthanasia in animal shelters, and I was so deeply affected. The images were incredibly heartbreaking and at the same time very beautiful. I believed more people had to be exposed to work like this.

I was so excited to learn that Shannon would be presenting at the Living With Animals conference I attended in March (even more excited to learn that we would be meeting individually for me to review her work). In talking with and getting to know this wonderful artist, I learned of the struggles she faced in getting her work out into the world – how people viewed it as too gruesome, too difficult to face, too upsetting. With her more recent project, Landfill Dogs, Shannon has found an extremely successful solution. While the project continues to speak about the problem of homeless animals being euthanized, the pictures in Landfill Dogs are joyful and uplifting (so much so, in fact, that Shannon faces interpretation of her work on the complete opposite end of the spectrum – as “cute animal photography”), tender and emotional. I so applaud Shannon for pushing through the challenges and getting this work’s message seen and heard by the world. Landfill Dogs is a gorgeous hardcover book that can be purchased on the artist’s website.

From the artist’s statement: These are not cute pictures of dogs. These are dogs who have been homeless for at least two weeks, and now face euthanasia if they do not find a home. Each week I bring one dog from the county animal shelter and photograph him/her at Landfill Park, a former landfill converted into a public park.

The backdrop of Landfill Park is used for two reasons. First, the dogs will end up in a landfill if they do not find a home. They will be euthanized and their bodies will be buried deep in the landfill among our trash. Below the surface at Landfill Park there are more than 25,000 dogs buried. I think of this park as a burial ground. These photographs offer the last opportunity for these dogs to find homes. The second reason for the landfill location is because the county animal shelter falls under the same management as the landfill. This government structure reflects a societal value; homeless cats and dogs are just another waste stream. However, this landscape offers a metaphor of hope. It is a place of trash that has been transformed into a place of beauty. I hope the viewer also sees the beauty in these homeless, unloved creatures.

To date I have photographed 179 dogs from Wake County Animal Center in Raleigh. Of that group, 153 have been adopted or sent to rescue, 7 are still waiting, and 19 have been euthanized for various reasons.

Visit artist site: shannonjohnstone.com

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Miska Draskoczy

Miska Draskoczy

For college, I moved from my childhood home of suburban Colorado to Baltimore. It was a difficult transition from the wide open west, with natural areas to be easily accessed in every direction, to the center of a large east coast city, where I could only walk and take the light rail in attempt to interact with nature and animals anywhere I could. I adjusted by making photographs of my new surroundings, square, sans-people, and often of evidence of nature in the city. I thought about those pictures a lot while I was viewing Miska Draskoczy’s series Gowanus Wild. The photos are all made at night, the odd lighting and colors adding to the images’ bizarre subjects: a hanging plant mounted high on the brick wall of a parking lot; a huge tree surrounded by trash, graffiti, and glowing city lights.

From the artist’s statement: My vision for “Gowanus Wild” is to illustrate a personal exploration of nature and wilderness in the paradoxical setting of a contaminated industrial environment. As the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn has been declared a federal Superfund cleanup site and seen over 150 years of continuous industrial use, one of my aims with the series is to show just how tenacious nature can be in the face of such grave environmental destruction. Set entirely at night when the area empties of people and activity, the mood is one of stillness, reflection, and discovery.

I’ve lived on the border of Gowanus and Park Slope since 2008, and walking home through the deserted streets, I was always struck by how odd and atmospheric the place felt. At first I photographed the area because it inspired interesting images. Later I started to ask myself more consciously what it was that drew me to it. While an indictment of man’s abuse of the environment is perhaps inevitable, my goal is to not just celebrate nature’s resilience but to also show how it is paralleled by the human ability to seek and find the balm of nature in the most unlikely of places. I believe wilderness and adventure are natural longings and that satisfying these urges is perhaps less about far flung travel and more about altering our perception and awakening to our surroundings, however ugly or distraught they may be.

Gowanus Wild has been made into a book, which can be ordered here.

Visit artist site: miskadraskoczy.com

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Alexandra Murphy

Alexandra Murphy

At the Living With Animals conference in March, Alexandra Murphy’s talk “Specere and the Photograph: Co-Existing in Perpetual States of Preservation” was right before mine. As a person who’s incredibly uncomfortable speaking publicly, I so appreciated getting to look at and hear about Alex’s lovely and beautiful salt print photographs before having to get up before an audience and present my work. Of her art practice, Alex writes that she is “fascinated by the relationship between the photograph and the taxidermy specimen in terms of representations of death, permanence, display and preservation.” I am always drawn to photographic projects that focus on taxidermy and natural history museums, especially when the artist acknowledges that wonderful collision of the photograph, the taxidermy mount, and the viewer – all extensions of, respectively, life, the animal, and the human being, impermanent yet frozen in time. There’s something romantic about Alex’s Specere photos as well. Their process makes them feel wonderfully aged, as their pink hue makes them feel like special, unique objects to be adored.

From the artist’s statement: “Specere II: Fixing the Shadows” (2015-2016) was documented at the Natural History Museum in London. A recipient of a Royal Photographic Society funding award in 2015, the project explores the preservative relationship between the photograph and the taxidermy specimen through the salt print process. This was one of photography’s earliest processes, a process that William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839 described as, ‘the art of fixing a shadow’. Fraught with its own fragility and susceptible to aberrations, the salt print process presents an alternate possibility in my exploration of the relationship between museum specimen and photograph. Both the photograph and the taxidermy specimen are organic in nature, and so are temporal. They are also both the results of preservation techniques, in an attempt to fix and capture nature’s transience – acts of defiance against ‘flat death’ (Barthes). The display case is an important compositional factor in each of these photographs – we cannot look at the specimen without first having to visually negotiate past its recognisable glass construct. The two-dimensional flatness of the photograph exaggerates this display frame as a noticeable visual barrier – it always reminds us what it is we are looking at.

Visit artist site: acm-photo.com

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Lee Deigaard

Lee Deigaard

Several years ago, when I was first starting to photograph in natural history museums, I was experimenting with abstracting taxidermy animals and focusing on the fields of color behind them in their display cases. It was within a year that I stumbled upon Grounded by Helen Sear – and promptly quit my project because I was so blown away by the pictures she had made in a similar vein. Grounded has always stuck with me, and I thought of it instantly when I saw some prints of new-to-me work by Lee Deigaard at the Living With Animals conference. I had featured Lee’s work a few years ago, and I was so excited when I learned she’d be at the conference. I love the photographs in her series Equuleus (“part of a multi-media long-term project, In Your Dreams [Horses], exploring horse personality and individuality, sensory processing and proprioception, concepts of invitation, initiation, and trespass, and shared thresholds of experience between horse and human”) for the same reasons I am drawn to Sear’s work – the playful concept; the surreal, otherworldly quality – but also for its thoughtful, poetic statement. Boundaries, the horizon, the symbolism of the horse’s back – knowing the meaning of these images to the artist makes me wholly appreciate this project.

From the artist’s statement:
Boundaries – between earth and sky, between species, between bodies in space also exist between incursion and permission, coercion and compliance, between inside and out. Boundaries define concepts of self and other and are often flexible and permeable.
The horizon – that place of possibility – when pursued as a destination always eludes us.
Horses, as they did throughout human history from the third millennium B.C. took us there. The horse’s back in these photographs embodies the horizon; his back carries his rider farther than the rider could walk alone.
Where bodies are in space, within the landscape, can define the parameters of a relationship from formal to intimate. To cross another’s boundaries i.e. to touch them, carries a charge – whether of transgression or connection depends on the context.
Human exploration, whether global or granular, invokes conquest.
The body is a landscape. One body in connection with another body is a relationship.
Human-equine relationships derive from ingrained predator-prey relationships, (im)balances of power (physical and otherwise), and concepts of dependence and interdependence, compliance and autonomy. These are foundational aspects to almost any interpersonal relationship. Knowing a horse is like being in any partnership. Touch, proximity, familiarity, request, response mediate how we interact in close quarters. Acts of grooming and riding are by definition intimate; they involve close contact, communicative touch (and being touched), and mutual cooperation.
Horses naturally attune themselves – to our heartbeats, rates of breathing, the movements of our pupils – they are sensitive to pheromones. The know the subtle language of the body. It is difficult to hide your true self from a horse. He reads you, perhaps better than you do yourself.
A horse – no matter how big or brave – thinks and reacts like a prey animal. He scans the horizon and takes the long view: the movements of sun and stars, the change of seasons, the grass as it grows. He can see very nearly in the round. He is alert to the landscape, his pupils, rectangular and horizontal, are geared towards the horizon and the approach of any distant predator. The feeling of close connection in an intimate relationship also carries a sense of deep strangeness and far places. To know and be known is a wide open frontier.

Visit artist site: leedeigaard.com

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Carole Baker

Carole Baker

Before the Living With Animals conference, I tried to look up each speaker to get an idea of their work. There were some folks I couldn’t find online, and so some talks I went into with only a basic idea of what to expect. In the case of Carole Baker and her talk “Where is Home? The Unpredictability of Life as a Cypriot Stray Dog,” I’m glad I got to see the work for the first time and learn about it straight from the artist all at once. Carole’s photographs at dog rescue centers across Cyprus are so rich, deep, and moving, and the content hit close to home as I have also used photography to explore issues of domestic animal overpopulation. Recently, Carole has begun making work at horse rescue centers in Egypt. I think both sets of pictures create a beautiful, heartbreaking testament to a difficult truth of our times.

From the artist’s statement: I have been making photographic work in Cyprus for almost two years in response to the comparatively large numbers of stray dogs on the island, to the island-wide policy to capture, incarcerate, and kill after 15 days, and to the complex system of sanctuaries which rescue and re-home. Recently I have begun working with sick and rehabilitating horses in a rescue in Egypt. My work uses a diverse selection of visual and textual representations, including my own photographic enquiry, in dialectical opposition, to expose and challenge the inherent ideologies and philosophical positions underpinning the social practices governing non-human animals. Informed by Feminism and Postcolonialism, the work engages with notions of power and powerlessness, otherness, hybridity and marginalisation, echoing the instability and conflict evident in Middle Eastern politics.

Using a polyvocal approach, I provide an imaginative space where notions of power and coercion, identity and representation can emerge and be subject to scrutiny. This approach promotes a re-evaluation of our understanding of, and hence relationship with, non-human animals, and I explore Weil’s suggestion that, “[t]o be dumb… is not to be lacking in language, but to have an alternate means of apprehending the other and the world.” (Weil 2012)

The work is a ‘Critical Realist’ method of committed investigative practice, involving rigorous research that seeks to uncover and understand a pre-existing social reality. The photographs themselves cannot reveal the history of dogs in Cyprus or horses in Egypt, nor their socio-political imperatives, but they can show the consequences of policies and practices and suggest alternative perspectives. This work then seeks to navigate the complex territory between representation and the ‘reality’ it transforms, and to examine whether this can become a catalyst for social activism. Activists seek to illuminate that invisible picture, to amplify that unheard voice, to reveal that untold story; they are “… always seeking some evidence necessary to maintain, retain, or restore liberty for someone somewhere…” (Bogre 2012)

Visit artist site: plymouth.ac.uk/staff/carole-baker

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