Animals Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before
From armadillos to zebras, or what championship chickens have to do with a giant octopus.
By Maria Popova
It’s easy to take this amazing planet we inhabit for granted. While National Geographic‘s school of nature photography may have its place, there’s something remarkable and whimsical that happens when a fine art photographer takes her lens to Earth’s creatures — they become poetry. Today, we turn to five such photographers, whose portraits of animals — unusual, otherworldly, kooky, tender, charismatic — make the eye swoon and the heart sing.
ANDREW ZUCKERMAN: CREATURE
Andrew Zuckerman is one of my absolute favorite photographers working today, his Wisdom and Music projects priceless time-capsules of contemporary culture and his thoughts on curiosity and rigor as the key to creativity a beautiful articulation of my own credo. In Creature, Zuckerman brings his exquisite signature style, crisp yet tender, to Earth’s beings. With equal parts detail and delight, he captures the spirt of these diverse creatures, from panthers to fruit bats to bald eagles, in a way makes them seem familiar and fresh at once, and altogether breathtaking.
The project also features a companion children’s alphabet book (and we know how much I love those) titled Creature ABC. In 2008, Zuckerman followed up with the equally exquisite Bird.
TIM FLACH: DOGS
From photographer Tim Flach and Creative Review editor Lewis Blackwell comes Dogs — a series of incredibly artful, soulful portraits of man’s best friend, first featured here several months ago.
With a potent blend of playfulness and profound respect, Flach captures the remarkable diversity of dogs, both of appearance and of character, and our complex, 150-century-old relationship with them in a poetic and spellbinding visual narrative.
From shelter dogs to show-winners to dogs who sniff out explosives, the book spans an incredible range of personalities, portrayed in beautiful images generously stretched across full-bleed double-page spreads and lined with insightful commentary on everything from dog racism (did you know that there are more black dogs in shelters than any other fur color?) to historical background on how different breeds came to be and curious facts about them.
They can entertain us, protect us, teach us how to love, do what they are told, and tell us what is going to happen next. They can even extend our lives. We think we train them to do the work, but they have in turn found a way for us to provide for them. This great form that has forged so many different kinds of dog is the inspiration for this book. The result is an unprecedented insight and visualization of what dogs are and can be.”
TAMARA STAPLES: FAIREST FOWL
Humans have the beauty pageants. Dogs have the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. But who knew chickens, too, had their own line of competitive narcissism? In The Fairest Fowl: Portraits of Championship Chickens, which you might recall, photographer Tamara Staples documents the fascinating and glamorous world of poultry fanciers and their prized barnyard beauties, from the surprisingly elaborate judging process to the distinct personalities of individual birds. Printed on appropriately lavish paper and garnished with a delicious essay by NPR’s Ira Glass illuminating the intricacies of chicken portraiture, the book is equal parts rich anthropology of a curious subculture and remarkable feat of photographic brilliance.
Chickens this amazing don’t just happen. People help them along — breed them, nurture them, take them from the humble coop to the top of the poultry world. In what’s left of rural America, there is a poultry world. And it’s bigger than you think. At a recent national competition, 12,000 birds showed up.”
In the world of championship chickens, there’s a 100-point scale, and every feature counts. […] The American Standard of Perfection is regularly linked to the Bible. Almost every breeder or judge speaks of the book in such exalted terms. The Standard exhaustively discusses every possible nuance of a show chicken, and there is little to no ambiguity between its covers.”
All images copyright Tamara Staples
SHARON MONTROSE: MENAGERIE
Fresh off the press just last week, Menagerie by photographer Sharon Montrose is a stunning collection of her most evocative images that will make you see at even the most familiar animals with equal parts astonishment, awe, and endearment.
From lambs to baby porcupines to giraffes, these tender, minimalist portraits exude a certain nakedness that makes the creatures in them appear at once more vulnerable and more relatable.
MARK LAITA: SEA
From photographer Mark Laita, whose superb “parallel portraits” of subcultures you might recall, comes Sea — a masterful piece of visual poetry that captures the creatures of the deep with equal parts cutting-edge photographic technique and imaginative whimsy to explore the extraordinary wonderland that lives beneath the surface of the world’s water. From iridescent jellyfish to playful sea horses to prepossessing but deadly puffer fish, the 104 images in the collection reveal the astounding grace, colors, and personalities of these marine characters with unprecedented artistry and passion.
Full review, along with more images, here.
Published November 14, 2011