We have a complicated relationship with animals, perhaps founded in the idea that we are not one of them. As humans, we enjoy creating hierarchies where there may be done, consistently creating artificial tests of intelligence that elevate us above the animal kingdom. By presenting and reinforcing false walls between ourselves and the natural world, we do more harm than good. Animals are the creatures Nature put forth to create balance in the cycle of life. Yet we have altered this balance in a myriad of ways.
Colleen Plumb’s monograph, Animals Are Outside Today (Radius Books) is a powerful look at the way in which we have heroicized, romanticized, anthromorphized, appropriated, incarcerated, ignored or alternately observed animals in the world. As Lisa Hostetler writes in the introduction, “Plumb’s photographs are not those of an animal-rights activist, wildlife photographer, or social documentarian…. If art is a form of philosophy, Animals Are Outside Today is less a manifesto and more a thought poem.” Indeed, taken individually or as a group, Plumb’s photographs are a meditation on the complex ways in which we consume animals that, if not for her questioning eye, we might not notice at all. Plumb speaks with The Click about her work.
Plumb recalls, “My parents gave me a camera for my birthday around fourth grade, a Bell & Howell camera, rectangular-shaped like an ice cream sandwich. Very ‘70s. I carried it by its string-loop on my wrist. I remember the button, flush with the camera top and the way you’d press it down into the camera. I vividly remember that camera. The sound it made. Its weight. I made albums of vacation photos and stuff. My family drove out west to the mountains one summer and I took pictures along the way. I loved my photo album with the cellophane cover pages that peeled back and the pictures stuck on to some type of surely non-archival sticky page. When I was a little older, a teenager, I would spend hours at bookstores looking at photo books. I’d take the bus from Rogers Park in Chicago to the Evanston Barnes & Noble and look at Avedon and Life magazine collections –just poring over whatever was there. A lot of photojournalism and street photography—I’d get lost reading and reading the images. I loved Atget. I think it provided a kind of escape. I was alone and just looking.”
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