This exhibition is now closed.
This exhibition is FREE and open for all to enjoy, running in various locations throughout 2015 – 2016. Please keep an eye out for the next venue – to be announced.
Carlisle – June 2015
Durham – August 2015
Workington – Easter 2016 – 26.03.2016 – 09.04.2016
The idea of the ‘Animal’ is vast and varied. The exhibition questions the nature of animals and our relationship with them. There are many ethical debates around the treatment of animals; in our society certain animals are considered ‘food’, others are loved as pets whilst their kin are used in medical testing.
Visually, the importance of our relationship to animals is reflected in a rich history of animal imagery, from cave paintings to contemporary art.
How, then, does photography portray our relationships with animals in society today?
Carlisle Photo Festival produced this exhibition in collaboration with Visualising Conferences; a series of biennial academic conferences bringing together theorists and practitioners to debate socially and culturally relevant themes as visualised through the medium of photography. For more information please visit Visualising The Animal Conference facebook page or http://visualisingconference.com/
This residency project was inspired by specimen collections at the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology in 2007/8 and is part of a long-term visual exploration into the work of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, focusing here in particular on his essay “The Uncanny”. “Spirits” expresses the tension between the familiar and the frightening and the Freudian fear of lifeless objects coming to life. Embedded in resin and pinned inside box frames, the images seem part of some zoologist’s collection – captured specimens attracting feelings of both fascination and unease.
Cold Air Rising
Reinterpreting the long tradition of humans looking to animals to find meaning, I create melancholy images where animals are illuminated by unnatural light; transcendental scenes where the animal becomes mystical.
A reoccurring motif in my work is the animal suspended in air; unfixed, frozen within a void. Different methods are used; carefully placing strings to pose a lifeless body, photographing a bird mid-flight or employing an infrared sensor to trigger the camera.
The use of a 10×8” large-format camera and life-size handprints provides a level of detail that allows the viewer to experience the subject in a strikingly intimate way.
Magpie, 52×43” Fibre-base Silver Gelatin Handprint, 2013
The best girl
This work explores the recent death of Cassie, my beautiful white Boxer dog, who was and still is, the best girl. The images are of objects she loved and transformed through her presence, but also of the relationship between subtle marks on the carpet and the marks on the object. The hair, the dirt, the drool, animate and activate the carpet – this will be all too familiar to dog owners, and how the dog impacts the space we live in.
You Must Carry Me Now
The photographic work You Must Carry Me Now is a component of the recent US exhibition by Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson entitled Trout Fishing in America and Other stories. The project was funded and hosted by the Global Institute for Sustainability, based at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
In the project, the artists focused on two endangered species still inhabiting the Grand Canyon – one was a fish and the other a bird – the California Condor. Because of a multitude of environmentally compromising human activities, both species are now highly ‘managed’ by humans and for them, conservation efforts constitute critical ‘life support’ systems.
The artists worked alongside bird biologists in the field at Vermilion Cliffs (at the North Eastern margins of the Canyon) and in the biological collection at University of Arizona, Tucson they made a series of 14 photographs from frozen condor cadavers. The photographs were then each presented together with a text revealing the individual life and behaviours of each bird as divulged to us by the biologists – information that would otherwise have no purpose and would, in all probability, have been lost.
The frozen bodies of these animals are political and are retained in this suspended condition, in part as evidence of the causes of their demise. By far the greatest number of these protected birds dies very young through lead poisoning as a result of feeding from contaminated gut piles discarded by hunters. In exploring the balance between data and affect, the artists mobilise text and image – the numerical tagging and radio transducers still attached in some cases, together with the transcribed accounts of the lives of respective birds – to give an insight into the complex nature of our relationship to them, to ideas of conservation and to the environment more widely.
The Morphology of Native Moths
In this series of images, I have presented a detailed study of the aesthetic form and habitat of moths. These are replicas of actual species that are native to the UK, made in collaboration with The Butterfly Conservation charity. It has been my aim to make imagery that is beautiful but actually represents more serious concerns about threats to our wildlife.
The Familiar Wolf
This Project explores the complex and deep relationships between people and their dogs, the love shared between them, and how these relationships often mean more to people than those with their fellow man. The photographer uses dogs as a medium to overcome crippling shyness and anxiety when talking to people throughout his life. Through this project he gained access not only to their homes and lives, but through the act of setting up each portrait, rearranging their room and their belongings, He was permitted to uncover parts of their lives they may be hiding out of sight. These people are willing to push the bounds of their comfort zones in order to be photographed with their pets.
Crufts is the largest annual dog show in the world. Over 22,000 dogs and their owners gather at the NEC in Birmingham to compete in a variety of categories – from best in breed to agility and obedience – ultimately for the coveted Best in Show title. When they are not performing, the show dogs are lined up in benches, where they patiently await their turn to take centre stage in one of rings. I was drawn to photographing these areas; these spaces were on the whole relatively quiet, contrasting with the more chaotic show spaces and merchandising areas. I became interested in photographing ‘behind the scenes’ with the dogs as my main focal point. My intention was to present a balanced view of the event through the dogs, from their perspective. Ultimately this project shows another view of the event, the other side of Crufts.
Impossible that there should be a country beyond the sea (2015)
The work rearticulates the centuries-old tradition of horse portraiture in the light of new developments in the fledgling, cross-disciplinary field of animal studies.
The thoroughbreds of wealthy, aristocratic, eighteenth-century patrons are swapped for the humble, anonymous ponies of the New Forest, Hampshire.
Unfettered by the traditional need for aggrandizement through heroic, mythic or monumental composition, the work provides a space in which to re-learn what horses are, and to cast light on the nature of anthrozoological (or human-animal) encounter. What is revealed is not something new but, instead, something very old, that speaks, in snatches, of dreams or fairytales.
That’s animals life
This is selected work from my documentary series “That’s animals life”. The photographs were taken in Northern Germany. The grand motive is the relationship between people and animals, direct or mediate. All situations are spontaneous and un-posed.
In a vast county such a Northumberland, agricultural shows are events in which bring people from all over, together. Originally this was a place where farmers would show off their prized animals, and although this still happens, it has transformed into a cultural event, celebrating the county and all it has to offer. How many more years will this traditional fair be able to keep up with the ever-changing modern world?
This project documents how someone lives with a chronic disorder such as Rheumatoid arthritis. The animals seen in the project are a huge part of her life and the interaction she has with both dog and ferret are very special. The subject, Karen, works as volunteer Foster Coordinator for LSOS as well as doing work with the homing team for the Eastern Region of GRWE (Greyhound Rescue).
Shoot! is a documentary project initiated in 2008. It follows a small pheasant and partridge shooting syndicate in Tow Law, County Durham on both work and shoot days.
The shooting season for pheasant runs from 1st October till 1st February but creates a year-round social space as syndicate members share the cost and labour of preparing for the season. During the closed season this involves ongoing woodland management and rearing game birds for release.
The syndicate members are extremely diverse; men and women of all ages are drawn from rural and urban areas, and from a wide range of cultural, educational and occupational backgrounds. They are drawn together by a common love of the countryside, the wildlife it supports and the locally reared free-range food it can provide.
Whilst the main aim is to shoot ‘sporting’ game birds, the process makes up part of a much broader social occasion for passing on traditions, sharing game recipes and country living practices.
In Carceri (literally, ‘prisons’), an ongoing series of pictures from Europe, America and China, Martin Pover investigates the space of the contemporary zoo. Although purporting to offer insights into nature, zoos isolate species from one another, disrupting any normal interaction between different groups of animals, reptiles, fish and birds. Animals are caged, or confined in glasshouses or pits – incarcerated, disenfranchised, and disempowered. Why look at animals now? Carceri draws attention to viewpoints and angles of vision constructed for the visitor. Protected from actual animals, we look through metal bars, or down onto an indoor ‘room’; our relative power is enhanced, and safety is assured. That these places are photographed when there is no animal present draws attention to their artificiality. Ultimately the pictures invite us to question such spaces in terms that reflect human fears of containment. Zoos persist despite – or perhaps because of – such ambiguities.
Woodburn Forest and Reservoirs has been the location chosen by a number people in which to end their lives. I have grown up near the reservoirs and have experienced it through all weathers. The latest person to take his life at the reservoirs was a 56 year old man who drowned himself in September of last year. There is another phenomenon currently shaping the landscape at the reservoirs. Phytophthora ramorum a fungus like pathogen has claimed many of the pine trees, causing them to starve of nutrients from the roots up, and left solitary surviving trees dotting a now depleted forest. In September of this year I became the owner of a Springer Spaniel pup. On our walks together the pup and I found ourselves at the reservoirs. Focusing on the pup, the solitary trees and the landscape of the now drained reservoirs, I have made a piece of work that questions the psycho-geography of this location and ruminates on a landscape’s ability to retain traces of memory.
The Horse Logger
The Horse Logger is a vignette of an alternative rural life; the project documents the close working relationship between man, beast and the environment of a horse logger in Northumberland, England. Amber, a 15.2 hand Comtois, a sturdy yet nimble breed from the Jura Mountains, works with Jonah Maurice in the woodlands of Northumberland. Horse logging may seem an archaic practice but interest in the low impact forest management alternative is growing within the conservation and heritage sectors as the need for sensitive timber extraction is recognised. The story follows Jonah’s work and home life as he extracts timber from some of Northumberland’s most ecologically sensitive woodlands.
The Chaos of Memory
The Chaos of Memory is a practice-based research project working in partnership with city museums to engage in the critical discourses surrounding museological practices of collection and display. The resulting photographic series is a quiet critique of spaces defined by the activities of what they show and how they show.
The work has sought out those contingent areas at the edge of the curatorial gaze, where objects become participants in unscripted dramas that counter the forms of highly directed narration presented in public displays.
Unfettered by structures of taxonomy and the weight of narrative, something of the obdurate ‘thingness’ of the artifact returns and along with it a sense of curiosity that could be seen to be at odds with the rationalistic intent of the public museum enterprise.
The Domestic Aviary
Confinement or Sanctuary? Both words could be used to describe the environment of the birds in this project.
The photographs draw upon a custom that has developed in the best interest of the birds. Born tame, they can no longer survive in the wild. The bird owners have become protectors whilst the birds themselves have become members of the family; nurtured, cared for and – for a brief moment – freed from their cages to fly freely within the looser confines of the home.
But in addition, these interiors, coupled with pet birds either flying free or becoming an ornamental part of the room, can be read as a visual metaphor of our own conscious understanding of freedom and its limits and possibilities. We as people can ‘fly’ as far as we want but we often elect to confine or constrain our own lives and geography by our choices and commitments.
‘If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing’.
A series of black and white portraits made in collaboration with the felt artist, Em Fountain. The animal masks are made of wool and hand-made felt and anonymise their maker hidden within.
Nodding towards Jung’s ideas of the feminine inner personality, the anima as a creative source and the anthromorphic nature of an animal mask, these portraits seek to present a dreamy unworldliness in which the stag poses in a heavy woollen coat, the raven perches with a staff and the badger sits demurely in a plain studio. We know the animals are not real, but the formal pose allows us to look for, and imagine, their personalities and the fables they may feature in.
This is a work in progress with the future intention of showing both masks and portraits together whenever possible.
San Diego Signs
Signage is a predominant feature of the man-made landscape and so becomes a key element in defining a place. Between June 1986 and July 1987 I lived in San Diego in southern California. Throughout this period I photographed the city and its extended environs. Exploring this topography I documented that which signalled the specific character of San Diego County. Informed by the photographs of Walker Evans and Lee Friedlander I was drawn to the interplay between signs and scene. Californian culture is noted as being dominated by the automobile, consequently signs have to be bold and eye-catching to be seen by drivers and their passengers. The emphasis on novelty extends to the sidewalk to attract customers. Animals are used as motifs in many of the signs recorded. Pulled out of nature and dropped into language these animals are tamed for comic effect. What is visualised is the animal as part of commodity culture separated from its own habitat and inserted into man’s domesticated landscape.
Discarded polystyrene takeaway trays are objects frequently spotted in Plymouth. They are discovered in abundance throughout Union Street – a once grand thoroughfare yet now in decline – considered the main ‘entertainment district’ of the city with a host of bars, nightclubs and fast food outlets.
During 2011 and through primary research in the field, it was observed that any remaining food in the abandoned takeaway trays formed the staple diet of many sea and urban birds. Based on a set of learnt behaviors and following a specific pecking order, Great Black Back Gulls, Hearing Gulls, Rooks and Feral Pigeons had developed strategies for breaking into the boxes by using their beaks to remove and consume left-over contents.
The pecked boxes were gathered from the area, with specimens undergoing a delicate cleaning process before being re-presented in the form of Photograms as a response to the social landscape in which humans and animals co-exist.
The Photograms record and describe through a somewhat detached and emotionless pursuit, underpinned with a technical attentiveness and referencing early forms of flora and fauna representation.
Point of interest
These images belong to the photo series “Point of interest”. The story takes place on the territory of the interaction of reality and fable. Featuring an illusory existence of these creatures, I sublimated my inner sense of their great significance and convey the idea of creating a new mythology, and new symbols of pilgrimage and worship.
Its feathers shine
‘A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.’
(from ‘On Mere Being’, Wallace Stevens)
Feathers constitute a bird’s external appearance, the physical surface. Feathers are the objects of enraptured beauty seeking gazes – our gaze. Feathers are also a symbol of something entirely not human. We consume birds on daily basis – chickens mostly – but we cannot eat the feathers. With birds, we share blood and flesh, but not feathers. Those are birds’ exclusive right. Feathers are a symbol of our otherness and our domination.
Mainly bred for food, but also judged in aesthetic competitions, poultry perfectly symbolizes the articulated and often contradictory relation between the Human and the Animal; a relation that swings between fascination and domination, food and beauty, the concepts of the Us and the Other.
‘Its feathers shine’ is a photographic project digging this relation through the exploration of poultry shows around UK and their rituals, characters and caged birds.
This project is inspired by the equine crisis in the UK and Ireland. Since the beginning of recession here, horses have been abandoned in record numbers by owners who can no longer afford to feed and care for them. The problem in Ireland has been exacerbated by over breeding during the boom years, and with tighter controls on illegal slaughtering since the horsemeat scandal, these horses are now “worthless”. I want to look at how people are reacting to the problem and what that reaction reflects about our society. I visited one of many horse rescue centres that is full to capacity and facing the reality of putting horses to sleep due to lack of funding, as well as following a building labourer who often buys horses that are neglected and brings them back up to condition before selling them on. He seems to do this for both money and love of the animals in equal measure. Without profit from selling on horses he would not be able to help more, but by doing so is he also commodifying them? This human-animal relationship is a complex mix of care and control, where romantic ideals and reality often clash.