Off the Map
by Jill Waterman
"In the days when superstition dominated reason and magical powers suppressed common sense, animal spirits infested the world of our ancestors. Endowed with supernatural qualities like our own, the animals we encountered filled us with
Desmond Morris, The Animal Contract p. 17.
Since the time of the cave paintings at Lascaux, animals have been invested with mythological significance. They exist in aworld apart from our own, as evidenced by their distance from the controls of human language. Our relationship withanimals has evolved through the centuries from fear and wonder to possession and scientific analysis. Details of behaviorand physiology are now plotted to establish the importance of these primal beings to our civilized human world.
The capture of animals in photographs has been put to the test in recent years, due to a variety of conditions that manipulate reality and problematize truth. The decimation of natural habitats, the co-opting of wildlife into socialized environments, an insatiable appetite for viewing animals as entertainment and an expanded arsenal of image-making tools are all factors that politicize the representation of animals in photographs. Yet, the degree to which animals influence the image-making process by interaction with humans (and with the camera) is rarely discussed. This issue is especially relevant to the socialized creatures who connect with our lives through a measure of captivity. One photographer likens the wildlife inhabiting game farms to animal soldiers:
"In a war you have people who die to save democracy. These animals, who are not suffering, are also playing a veryimportant role. Without pretty pictures, would there be the same affection for them?" '
Given the proper conditions, a socialized animal in a well-designed habitat is likely to respond to an attentive viewer with the grandeur of a performer on stage. Such interactions, however, are always conditional. As such they are subject to the personality and ritual habits of an animal as well as the duration and intent of a viewer's attention. The comfort level provided by an enclosure's design is another contributing factor. The relationship between animals and viewers at the Bronx Zoo's new Congo exhibit was recently described in the press by John Gwynne, Wildlife Conservation Society's Director of Design: "We expected the gorillas to be much more comfortable here, but we didn't expect them to beinteracting as much as they are. People have asked if it's one-way glass — it's not. If it were, the gorillas wouldn't be so close. They're coming in to see us," as quoted in The New York Times.2
A new book of photographs by Henry Horenstein explores this relationship in elegant, iconic animal portraits. Horenstein is perhaps best known to the world of photography as the author of a best-selling darkroom text. That he is also aphotographer of creative vision is apparent from this book. This series of images, made during the past four to five years, is the continuation of a life-long interest in the animal world. Over the span of his career, Horenstein's work with animals has ranged from personal investigations to commercial assignments produced for zoos and aquariums.
This current selection is a thoughtful arrangement of creatures suspended, like artifacts in amber, by close-up detail and limited depth-of-field. The book opens on a reptilian eye pointing toward the turning page. The next image echoes the shape of this eye, yet belongs to the mouth of a marine creature whose face is obscured by distance. From thisintroductory section, one is immersed in an artfully choreographed progression where visual associations create meaning through decisive image pairings. Some
examples include the following:
the buoyant grace of a beluga whale
is eclipsed by the tightly clenched
jaw of an alligator
the pained expression of an
orangutan is augmented by
the ponderous weight of an
the patterning in a flamingo's
plumage echoes the cluster
of a school of carp
the vampiric embrace of a flying fox
is countered by a comic greeting
from a cownose ray.
One is informed of each animal's species and genus by captioned thumbnails in a four-page index at the back of the book. This section offers a glimpse at the mechanics of the editing process as a narrative sequence unfolds across each page. The story presented here is one of similarity in diversity. We are witness to odd strains of inheritance in an evolution back to myth.
Horenstein has had a multi-faceted career as an author, educator, commercial photographer, editor and book packager. He has gained an intimate knowledge of publishing through past books spanning the subjects of instructional texts, children's titles and documentary photo essays. This wealth of experience has led him to release Creatures, his first self-published project. Paul Langmuir, art director, and Thomas Gearty, editor, worked closely with Horenstein to design page layouts that achieve both formal beauty and conceptual punch. Decisions about picture sequence and image size are orchestrated with placement on backgrounds of black or white to direct the pace of the reader's progress. These choices work along with the subtleties of the photographs to convey a sense of each creature's unique traits.
All of the images from this project were shot on Agfa Scala black-and-white transparency film. Agfa materials were also employed in the publication of the book. The manufacturer became an integral part of this project, providing scans and film separations for publication. The book was printed in Vermont by Stinehour Press, using a tritone process to render subtle nuances of color and contrast. Exhibition prints are made with the Ilfochrome (formerly Cibachrome) process to obtain rich black tones with a wealth of detail. Seven images from this series are also available as limited-edition platinum prints.
Henry Horenstein's book, Creatures, published by Pond Press, is available in most bookstores. An exhibition of images from this series was on view during May at the Robert Klein Gallery in Boston and in New York at Ligne Roset. During the month of June this work was exhibited at John Cleary Gallery in Houston, Texas. Horenstein's platinum imagery is availablethrough The John Stevenson Gallery in New York. In autumn 1999, Harcourt Brace will release, A is for — A Photographer's Alphabet, a children's book of Horenstein's animal images. Further information about this work is available from the galleries mentioned above or through the following Web sites: www.pondpress.com or www.horenstein.com.
A fine art photographer living in New York City, Jill Waterman works as a photo-editor for the stock photo agency, FPG International. She is also senior picture editor and contributing writer for Fotophile.
1. Joe McDonald in The Problem with Wildlife by Bill McKibben, Doubletake, Fall 1997, p. 52.
2. The New York Times, Friday, July 2, 1999, — Family Fare, A Rainforest in the Bronx, by Laurel Graeber, p. E40