Animalia

Very honored to have my work chosen for the The Center for Fine Art Photography’s “Animalia Exhibition.”

Juxtaposed deer on a compost pile.

Juxtaposed deer on a compost pile.

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.

 

Decongestant

Richard Serra. Storm King Art Center.

Richard Serra. Storm King Art Center.

Every since I was a child, I had asthma and allergies. I got allergy shots twice a week, and used an inhaler when environmental conditions activated my asthma. I was congested, compromised, and labored from any activity that taxed me.  I was frequently sick during winter, and then one day I got sick and tired of it. I began to read and research about health, changed my diet to becoming a staunch vegetarian, and applied the philosophy of food combining. I went through a detoxification process that concluded in giving my body – space. Space to breathe, function, and thrive.

We live in a congested society. Everything we do, our very way of being, clogs our mental arteries. Glancing at our phones prior to going to sleep, to reaching for them as the first thing we do when we wake up – lest we have missed anything, during those brief hours of slumber. We assault our minds with continual thoughts and distractions so much so, that it has become the new normal, and like a narcotic, we can’t seem to function without getting another hit, which feeds the paradigm, which necessitates that we perpetuate the dysfunction. We don’t understand what it means to be still.

In the artistic process, as well as the human process, it’s essential that there be space. Stillness. Connection to the divine, as we are merely a conduit and channel for the unlimited creative energy that surrounds us. In my process, it’s non-negotiable that I meditate, practice yoga, journal every day, and connect to nature. Then I leave one day a week to do what I love, that which has no agenda. It was difficult to implement this at first, because we become so identified with “doing” that it’s the doing that creates our self importance. The doing is what you’ve become. The irony, is that when you create space and make time to do those things which fill your soul, more time becomes available. When you are present and focused, your awareness becomes heightened. Perception becomes sharper than before, and with no effort. However, we no longer have the ability to understand let alone acknowledge the power of creating that space which already exists, we just have to enter it. It’s become an equation of importance = “doing.” As a still photographer, I’m constantly asked “Are you doing video yet?” Always moving, onto the next, without much contemplation for what’s here. An Edward Weston, or Irving Penn still life, can speak volumes until the end of time. We have lost the art of contemplation,  addicted to moving, frenetic motion, being polished into nothing.

Geese. Storm King Art Center.

Geese. Storm King Art Center.

 

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!

Considering The Tom

Although it seems as if it’s brain is exposed, and it’s organs are inside out, I find Turkey’s to be quite beautiful. They have over 5 to 6 thousand beautifully varied feathers, which are iridescent in ways that only nature can produce. If we can take something familiar, remove our habit of assigning a label to it, and pretend to be seeing it for the first time, it becomes mesmerizing. The multi overlapping feathers on this turkey, are reminiscent of the fungi that grows on  decomposing trees. The synchronized overlay of petals on a flower, and the rippling pattern of sand at low tide. The unlikely combination of textures and colors are something to behold, and inadvertently contribute to our sense of aesthetic and design. Lest, we still reference this magnificent bird as lowly, ugly and stupid. Housed in that indigo poc-faced, wart encrusted cranium, is a highly sophisticated GPS system, where a geographically accurate mechanism is in place, allowing them to learn precise details of an area over 1,000 acres. Once you consider your relationship to something, you remove the limits upon what it is you have defined, which opens you up to infinite possibilities, within your own realm.

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Where Have They Gone?

With spring in the air, I was prompted to visit this Styrofoam box in my garage, where I have a collection of beautiful dead butterflies. Works of art in their intricate pattern, color, texture, and anatomy, they lie still, weightless, and void of the moisture of life.   When I was a kid growing up in Illinois, summers were full of fireflies, June bugs, praying mantis, and butterflies. Playing on our swing set in the backyard at dusk, one, two, and then many, fireflies would flicker on and off in a blanket of glowing dots.  When we would go swimming at night, the light from our pool would attract a myriad of June bugs which would “tap tap tap,” as they landed hard on the water’s surface. My sisters and I would catch praying mantis in jars, and peer at their alien features through the glass before we put the jar down to set them free. Then we’d run away as fast as we could, for fear they’d jump out and  land on us. We saw them in trees and on the lawn, camouflaging their thin bodies in the bark and grass blades. And there were butterflies. Lots of them. Not just Monarch’s, although the classic orange Monarch’s were abundant. There were giant furry moth’s with beautiful orange markings on their beige winged backgrounds. We’d often see them in their beefy green caterpillar form, ebb and flowing, as they incrementally inched along. We marveled as we witnessed them spinning their cocoons tirelessly and meticulously, waiting impatiently for them to emerge in the months ahead.

And now, summers are void of these miraculous sights. When there is a firefly sighting, it’s practically as rare as a shooting star. And the butterflies?  If I see one, I try and fix my gaze on it’s erratic path, trying to hold onto it for as long as I can, as if loosing sight of it might mean it’s the last one I see.

So, where have they all gone? A call to attention has been brought out to list the monarch in particular, as an endangered species. Loss of habitat, GMO seed from Agrochemical companies, pesticides, weed killers, and the desire for a green suburban lawn, have all but obliterated these beautiful winged insects. For me, I don’t mind weeds, and I will be planting butterfly friendly perennials and wildflowers in my garden this year, and hanging fruit and nectar compost in my trees, in order to attract and nurture this delicate species. If I’m lucky, perhaps my daughter will have the experience of knowing the butterfly in her youth.

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