Very proud to be a part of the social documentary landscape, and to have participated in SDN’s 10th Anniversary Exhibition and Celebration. A wonderful turn out despite the inclement weather, and an honor to meet artists who are invested in changing the social landscape. A powerful exhibit was held at the Bronx Documentary Center in NYC, covering a decade of truth storytelling punctuated by the musical performance of James Lovell and the Afrigarifuna Music Ambassadors. Their performance cannot be overstated. He is an educator, activist, and co-founded a performing arts company which promotes indigenous Garifuna culture from Central America. He performs at the UN, and the Smithsonian. Currently being exhibited at the center, is “War and Peace in Liberia” Some never before seen images, from brave journalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, whose work was instrument in bringing to light, the humanitarian crisis in Liberia. Their documentation of events, helped bring international attention and momentum in helping to create the UN peacekeeping mission that helped bring the war to a close. Not to be missed.
Very happy to be featured in GEO Wissen, featuring images from my project “Displaced.” The feature story focuses on animals undergoing various states of rehabilitation. “Displaced” focuses on exotic pets that receive treatment at the Avian and Exotic Medical Center in NYC, and their experiences at the center.
I first met Jennifer and Elmo at The Avian and Exotic Medical Center in NYC, while shooting a personal project. Jennifer is an only child, and was raised by her grandparents and her mother. When her grandpa died when she was only 23, and her mother shortly thereafter, Jennifer continued to live with, and take care of her 92 yr. old granny. She originally bought Elmo-an intelligent and engaging Cockatoo that talks, (and says her name in Spanish with a Dominican accent), to keep her granny company when she’s at work. Recently her granny passed away, and Jennifer and Elmo remain in the apartment she grew up in. Elmo likes to take naps, and here they are taking a nap together, in her granny’s bed. From the moment I met them, it was apparent they had a close knit bond.
I entered this image in Alec Soth’s contest for “this ain’t art school.” Alec Soth, in conjunction with Deichtor Hallen of Hamberg, ran a contest with the theme of “sleep” When I came across the contest, this image of Jennifer and Elmo came to mind, and I entered it on the last day. I am fond of it because for me, taking a nap with a beloved pet, is the best nap there is. To indulge in a nap with a pet- hearing them breathe, and snore, is not like taking a nap with a person. There is an understanding, an unspoken bond and connection that is beyond human comprehension.
I just found out that I have won second place, and am overjoyed. I’m overjoyed because of the good natured spirit of the contest, looking at all the entries, and for the love of the theme, which was”Sleep.” Sleep, love, eating. All the most basic of needs, that have deep meaning, ritual, and comfort in all its associations. It was a contest where placing, was akin to my memory of winning my first contest ever, where the prize was a 6 pack of orange crush that I had won by being the 6th caller into a radio station when I was in high school. Of course this contest has much more significance and purpose, but for me, Alex Soth’s work has deep meaning, context, but also many times humor and levity. And it’s humor and levity, that we need most of all.
Alex explained why he chose the images that he did, and for mine, it was Elmo the cockatoo, along with the fact that Jennifer’s curls mimic the telephone cord at the edge of the bed. Her curls and relationship to the cord, his did not occur to me as I was photographing them, but ironically, sometimes my images possess this type of irony after the fact. I find that these artistic coincidences, are really in fact probably not coincidences, but subconscious choices made deep within our psyche. It’s always a marvel, and a revelation.
Honored to be exhibited at the 10th Julia Margaret Cameron Award International Photography Exhibition in Barcelona, for first place in documentary single image.
Wilbur, a 180 pound pig, lives in Staten Island with his owner Christy Matteo. And as most pigs do, he likes taking long naps, rooting in his backyard, and rolling in the mud. Wilbur had a nice life, until someone called the authorities, and now Christy must get rid of Wilbur by the end of the month because pigs, like many exotic animals, are illegal in New York. As I posted this Instagram post from the New York Times on my Facebook page, John Stanley of CCNY (Camera Club of New York) posed this question: “He’s adorable. How do you feel about having pigs as household pets?” Pigs are highly intelligent, and actually so biologically similar to humans, that their eyes are used for research, and they serve as a host to cultivate the growth of human organs, and, they can learn tricks and also make good pets. My feeling, is that pets are often acquired by humankind to fulfill a need, more so than for the needs of the pet itself. Exotic pets are enormously popular, but they suffer in captivity, because their natural habitat is impossible to replicate, and their biological needs can’t realistically be met. This is true even though the majority of exotic pets are captivity bred. See Displaced So when it comes to what I think about whether pigs make good household pets, I think that yes they do, if given the right environment. I don’t see pigs belonging in urban environments, even if they can acclimate. Like most animals, whether domestic, agricultural or wild, they need to be able to express their natural behaviors, as in Wilbur’s case, rooting, and rolling around in mud. (It seems that Ms. Matteo, has done him justice in this regard, however, I don’t know what her living situation is like for her neighbors.) Though pigs can, and have adapted to apartment living, I feel that an animal’s innate instinct, needs to be fulfilled for them to really have a sense of wellbeing and to thrive. Much like humans fulfilling their sense of purpose in life. When it comes to the relationship between humankind and animals, my philosophy is one of responsibility and accountability. To be accountable for the welfare of the animal. If having knowledge that pigs are illegal in New York, then Wilbur, and all the urban pigs that exist as pets, are always under a constant threat, and that needs to be taken into account. So what is Wilbur’s fate? Where does he go now? Hopefully he will end up at a sanctuary with other farm animals, and not like this unfortunate pig, who was also once a pet.
Very honored to have my work chosen for the The Center for Fine Art Photography’s “Animalia Exhibition.”
In today’s New York Times Metro section, my project “Displaced” was featured on the Album page, and in Friday’s LENS. Through the myriad of social media outlets, there have been numerous questions and comments regarding this project. I have created this blog post in order to provide more information about the project, and that my purpose for the projet extends beyond being “Just about the Animals.”
I came to the idea of doing this project while researching another project on prison inmates, who train service dogs. As a result of navigating through several links, I came across The Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in NYC, and it struck a cord.
I contacted the A&E about my project idea, which was to document the experience of exotic animals, (defined as anything other than a cat or dog) that come to the Center for treatment. Their response was receptive, and supportive.
I first began by calling the Center ahead of time, to ask what animals were scheduled for visits that week, so as not to be faced with a circumstance where there were few appointments that day, repeats of the same animal, or appointments that were spread far apart during the day. I soon abandoned this approach, learning that as in life, it’s the unexpected that often shows up and proves to be more interesting, that is, if you are patient, open, and aware. It was in those serendipitous visits, that the most interesting events occurred. Often times there were walk-ins that ended up being the most intriguing cases.
As with anything, I had good experiences that left me filled with hope and promise, and at other times, I experienced things that left me feeling quite the opposite. Humankind’s relationship with the animal kingdom, is one that is complex and multifaceted.
There were many responsible owners who kept up with regular wellness visits––showing up at the slightest concern when something seemed amiss with their pet. There were also times, where the opposite was true. Owners that were weary of coping with illnesses and the expense of treatments required for the maintenance of their pet. Often times these owners lacked the initiative to research their pets needs, or were unable to meet the demands those requirements entailed, or had poor husbandry practices. Sometimes these pets were relinquished to the Center, and if possible rehabilitated, sometimes adopted by the staff, or put up for adoption.
The project’s focus, is on the Center itself, and the trials and tribulations they must endure to bring these pets back to wellness to the best of their ability. They are a compassionate and dedicated staff. They are fully devastated when they lose a patient––reconstructing the event in their minds, in futile hopes of coming up with a different conclusion. The animal is their primary concern, and they do everything in their power to advocate on behalf of their patient. The Center consistently dispenses educational information to their clients and the public, on how to best care for their pets. The staff themselves, own several rescue exotic pets.
My projects use animals as a vehicle to illustrate global social environmental issues. It is not just about the animals alone. According to The Humane Society of the United States, the exotic pet trade is a multi-billion dollar industry, second only to drugs and weapons on the black market. Business is conducted over the internet and trade magazines and shows, resulting in a $15 billion dollar business in the US alone. These illegally imported animals do not end up only as household pets, but often used for entertainment purposes in a circus or zoo.
My project illustrates a small glimpse into the consequences of humankind’s thirst for the exotic. The practice of importing exotic animals as pets, has been happening for decades and is often ignited by a fad, brought on by the entertainment industry. The T.V. show “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” created a surge in popularity for exotic turtles.
People seeking exotics as pets, often incorrectly assume that acquiring one means less maintenance than owing a dog or a cat. People with busy lives, living in small apartments, often seek out an exotic for this reason. This is not the case, as exotic animals have very specific needs, and their veterinary costs can be significantly higher, due to their increased specialization. Even animals born in captivity, retain their natural instincts and behaviors. It is simply unfeasible to meet their ecological and biological needs. Difficulties in adequate housing, social environment, and atmospheric conditions such as temperature, amount of sunlight, and unvaried diets, result in illness, and often times death.
Animals who have been removed from their natural habitats often experience so much stress and shock from being removed from their home, that they die before they even reach their new destination. Infant animals are the most desirable, and often times the mother is killed by poachers so that it’s easier to capture her babies.
Removal of certain species from the wild, poses a threat to environmentally sensitive areas such as the rainforest or the African plains. The extraction of these animals from the wild, is with dire consequence as these delicate ecosystems heavily rely on animals to carry plant seeds through their droppings and fur. Moreover, the delicate ratio of prey and predator is compromised, which is necessary to keep populations in balance.
There has been some inquiry, as to what is taking place in some of the images in the project so I have provided additional information in the select images below.
The purpose behind my projects is to use animals as a vehicle to create awareness about global environmental issues. My work comes from a place of advocacy and reverence, in hopes of generating deep consideration for our environment, and other sentient beings.
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.
I’m pleased to be participating in The Ochberg Society’s annual auction for trauma journalism. Proceeds from the auction will help support photojournalists who cover conflict and social injustice. You may view the works of over 50 photojournalists in the online auction by viewing the auction catalog. The catalog is also available for purchase. The auction begins on October 25th and ends on November 8th. Happy bidding!