Category Archives: projects

Food for Thought. Redefined

In the name of tradition, 46 million turkeys will end up on Thanksgiving tables today. I came across this article written by the Huffington Post, which depicts the turkey as simply terrifying in appearance, exhibiting pictures of them in harsh lighting and unflattering angles, highlighting their seeming unsightly characteristics, and presenting them as flaws.  Well in all fairness, I have myself been terrified,  when accidentally flipping the camera on my iphone, only to be confronted with my own face, as I frantically panicked and fumbled, while attempting to flip the camera back. Then I spend the next 5 minutes convincing myself that it was just bad lighting and surely I don’t look anything like what I just witnessed.

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Huffington Post

The thing about labeling, is whether it be a person, place or thing, once we label something we immediately limit its potential, and cut off any opportunity or consideration for it to be something else. It’s been defined, compartmentalized, confined and constrained within that definition. It no longer has the ability to cross-pollinate.

As long as I can remember, it seems that the Turkey has been considered an unintelligent, lowly, ugly bird. Unworthy of any consideration, with the exception of once a year, when everyone gathers around and gives thanks, before choosing white or dark meat. Contrary to popular belief, the turkey is a sensitive and intelligent bird, being able to recognize another turkey by their individual voices. They have miraculous eye sight, and can fly up to 55 miles / hour in short bursts. They are sensitive and highly connected socially to their rafter. (group of turkeys) Sadly, 99% of the turkeys that land on your table at Thanksgiving are factory farmed, and bred in a monstrous way that makes them so large breasted, they are unable to mate. If that makes you curious as to how it’s possible to get to 46 million turkeys for Thanksgiving if they can’t naturally reproduce, you can read about the process in bioethicist Peter Singer’s article in the LA Times, “Consider the Turkey at Thanksgiving.”

How each of us views and defines the world, is based on our own belief system, which is a culmination of our life experiences. Conscious, and subconscious. The only hope for us as a nation, to bridge our ever widening gap, is to consider different points of view. “Consider” being the operative word.

How the Huffington Post illusrates the turkey, and how I view the turkey, are very different. There is no right or wrong, it’s a matter of opinion. However,  though we may just be talking about the appearance of a well known bird, and surely the Huffington Post is merely poking fun in its article, it can be a fragile line to toe, when it comes to labeling the appearance of anything. People, animals, cultures, countries.

I see the turkey as a marvel. Regal even, with a pantone of colors that only nature can create. A myriad of patterns and textures, simultaneously refined and grotesque. Having sat in a rafter of turkeys myself, their soft thumping and strutting was mesmerizing, had the most calming effect. It was really something to behold. I for one, will be tucking into a variety of root vegetables and acorn squash on this day of thanks.

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The wattle, fluid and fabric-like, textural like wax. Vivid in color, and in contrast with an intense blue not often found in nature.

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The remarkably intricate patterns and iridescent colors of the feathers. Astounding.

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The engineering of the feathers, inexplicable.

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Angel-like wings. The white tips catching the light, transparent and opaque, were delicate and a sight to behold.

 

Cow App

Allen is a fascinating farmer. In fact, it’s interesting that most of my farmer friends are artists. True creatives. They are engaged and connected to everything that they do, and are sensitive to the land, and the sentient beings that they govern. They are intuitive, and the most important qualities they possess are respect and humility, which are essential when working with mother nature. They have regard for natural intelligence, and in their process, work with, vs against, the natural order. On this particular day I came to Whippoorwill Farm with the single intent to photograph Allen tagging cows. Upon my arrival, he informed me that he had lost his special sharpie cow tagging pen. It’s not your average sharpie, so cow tagging was not on the order for the day. Though I was disappointed, it’s when things don’t go as planned, that I go into receiving mode. I trust that the right circumstances will come to me, or something even better than I had planned.  Allen needed to travel to another field to fill a basin with water for his cows, so I tagged along. When we arrived, the field was empty. Not a cow in sight. Allen looked at me and said “This is my second herd. They never listen to me. They won’t come. Just watch” He proceeded to lure his cows in with his special call. Nothing. He called again. Nothing. He said “See what I’m telling you? They don’t respect me.” Just then, a sea of black heads poked up over the horizon, and before I knew it, we were completely surrounded by a herd of black cows. It was something to behold, and it was clear that they respected their caller.  The herd’s energy was gentle, but quite powerful. While they sized me up, Allen pulled out his older generation iphone, and assessed his herd. He would often point to one cow in particular, and tell me a fascinating story about it, which left me looking at that cow in a completely different way once I had this new information. He then looked quizzically at one cow in particular, and proceeded to look up its status in his “Herd Book” app; an app which he developed that records the status of each cow–whether it’s a stud, has been sold, moved, weaned, or injured. Allen, is a walking cow app. He knows each cow’s personality intimately, its characteristics, health status, and quirks. The herd that wouldn’t listen, was all ears, and waited patiently for their steward to give them a cue.

Farmer Allen checks on the status of one of his cows on his "Herd Book App"

Farmer Allen checks on the status of one of his cows on his “Herd Book App”

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“The Predator Response”

It was a cold blustery day in May, as I went to photograph sheep shearing at Glynwood Farm, in Cold Spring NY. The farmers begin the process by corralling the sheep into a contained area, where they line up single file until it’s their turn to be sheared. When a sheep approaches the front of the line and is released, it makes a break for it, while the farmer attempts to wrangle it into position. The sheep will usually kick and fight to avoid being restrained, but about as much as a toddler fighting in order to avoid being put back in its stroller or car seat. Once the sheep is under control and put into a position where it can be sheared, they become very calm.  They literally become boneless––rag dolls, submitting to their groomer. As I commented on this phenomenon, a farmer explained that what I was witnessing, was known as “The Predator Response.” Once the prey––the sheep, knows it can’t escape, it fully surrenders to its captor. As a result of this innate behavior, the farmer is able to shear more easily and quickly, with less risk of nicks and cuts to the wooly beast. Once fully clipped, the finishing touches are a hoof trim, where if hooves are left untended, edges grow around to meet each other, housing muck and other undesirable pathogens, leaving the sheep with unsure footing and risk to infection. Once the sheep have had their woolly coat removed and hooves pruned, they are released lighter, more sure footed, and run naked and free out into the pasture.

When we fight nature, or try to control circumstances that are not within our control, we invite stress and suffering into our lives. The intensity of wanting things to be different than they are, doesn’t allow other solutions to become available. Occasionally, when a farmer temporarily looses his footing, the sheep senses this opportunity, and escapes. If we are too busy fighting our circumstance, often times that window of opportunity will never present itself. It’s finding that balance between having an intention, trying to make things happen, and allowing them to unfold, that is the key. I need to continually remind myself of this every time I go out and shoot. I find that the more patient I am with my process, the more becomes available to me. It’s cultivating a discipline and trust in the natural order of serendipity, over the conditioned need to control.

Sheep shearing day

Sheep shearing day. Waiting in the barn

Once the sheep are constrained, they no longer fight their circumstance, and give in to the "prey response"

Once the sheep are constrained, they no longer fight their circumstance, and give in to the “prey response”

Livestock manager Donald Arrant, speaks encouragingly, and with gentle praise to his sheep as he shears them.

Livestock manager Donald Arrant, speaks encouragingly, and with gentle praise to his sheep while he shears.

VP of Operations Ken Kleinpeter, who hasn't sheared in over 2 years, doesn't skip a beat as he shears with speed and accuracy.

VP of Operations Ken Kleinpeter, who hasn’t sheared in over 2 years, doesn’t skip a beat as he shears with speed and accuracy.

Sheared and unsheard

Sheared and unsheared. It’s amazing how small the sheep are once their wooly outer coat is removed.

Full wool coats are luxuriously rich with lanolin, and soothing to the skin!

Defining Death

I’m pleased to have work from my project “Hit and Run” featured in Otto di Paolo’s, zine entitled “MORTEM.” The book, exhibits different approaches and views, of dead animals. When I set out to photograph my project “Hit and Run” I had the opportunity to shoot it in a sensationalized manner, which is not how I felt about the subject matter, and not how I set out to approach it. However, in the creative process, I feel it’s important to be open and to explore all avenues and all approaches, because often times something is revealed by taking a path, that you had not intentionally set out to take. Recently, I attended a portfolio review and one reviewer and I, were not a good match. We were not on the same page, let alone the same book! However, I found the experience valuable as it reaffirmed my instinct to not pursue a direction I was contemplating, but unclear on. Therefore, every experience exists to teach or reveal, even though it’s purpose may not be evident to us at the time. Regarding di Paolo’s zine, it was interesting to see other artists interpretation of dead animals, and to contemplate my own feelings and reactions to their views, given my bias towards the subject matter. I felt many times the animals were being objectified, or documented scientifically  as a still life-an object, vs having been represented as a previously living breathing sentient being. Material which lends itself for much contemplation in the complex relationship between humankind and the animal kingdom. This of course, was my own personal interpretation. That being said, an interesting compilation and beautifully produced book.

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Good Efforts

For a few years now, my annual Christmas card has featured my daughter, and my dog Ernie. I usually come up with a concept or theme, and then go about executing it. My ideas are very simple. Last year, I decided to display Ernie’s favorite things surrounding him. Dog treats and tennis balls. I did not use Photoshop, but painstakingly hung each bone, and each ball, by fishing line taped to my ceiling. Many times the fishing line would slip through my fingers, a dog bone would crash to the floor and splinter into smithereens, and Ernie (blind) would go frantically sniffing for them, and move out of position. Stop and start, climb up and down off the stool, and then  readjust the fishing lines and props, too close, spacing not right etc etc. But, I did not use Photoshop. What disappointed me, is that some people assumed I used Photoshop, and a few inquired about it, which is understandable because Photoshop has often times replaced real behind the scenes styling. Kudos to Peter Thorpe, who has over the years, constructed brilliant and ingenious canine Christmas cards of his dog, “Christmas Dogs” without the aid of Photoshop. He has painstakingly taken the time to create, construct, and orchestrate these wonderful and humorous creations, the hard way.

My Ernie, 2013 Christmas Card

My Ernie, 2013 Christmas Card

 

Good Tidings

If you are considering gifting an animal this holiday season, please do so responsibly. Exotic animals in particular, have a very delicate nature and even those bred in captivity, retain their natural instincts and behaviors. One misconception about exotic pets, which adds to their popularity, is that not a lot is required for their care.  It is very difficult, if not impossible, to replicate their natural habitat and as a result, the well being of these creatures is compromised––mostly due to oversights of their biological and ecological requirements.

The dedicated individuals at the The Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in New York City, work tirelessly to treat and educate the public about responsible exotic pet ownership.

Bun Lai, chef, educator, and environmental activist, is committed to using invasive species (see Bun Lai capturing and utilizing invasive Burmese Pythons in the everglades, here) for his sushi creations. These invasive species, are often a result of exotic pets being released irresponsibly into the wild, and as a result, cause havoc and disruption to native species and their habitat. Contemplate, and please use consideration this holiday season.

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Banana, a ball python boa constrictor, receives treatment at the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in New York City