The Unchosen Ones (preliminary photographs), Lamb Show at the Minnesota State Fair. 2015.

The Unchosen Ones (preliminary photographs), Lamb Show at the Minnesota State Fair. 2015.

THE UNCHOSEN ONES

What began as a project about “The Year of the Yang” in the Chinese zodiac (goat, sheep, or ram) has become a pursuit of pastoral ideal embodied in actual animals. Click here to view the project. The next iteration of my series of photographs reflects the beauty and individual spirit of each subject. I believe these portraits will resonate with rural audiences and urban homesteaders.

My interest in animals isn’t about their wild nature, or exoticness; rather I am interested in their domesticity.  I want to ask the audience the question: what makes a goat, sheep, or ram? How have we influenced their evolution? What are they becoming? The question concerns why and how we have created this relationship with other species.

Curly in Fergus Falls, MN. 2015. Digital pigment print on cotton rag, 52 in x 39 in, ed. 3.

ARTIST BACKGROUND & PLAN

I’ve long been interested in the intersection of cultural landscape, heritage, and place. I have a fond connection with animals, a respect for agrarian-based heritage. In this new work, I wish to convey a sense of subtle richness in the ordinary, honor the landscape Minnesotans love. Let's not forget historical connections to the land, current connections, and how they have evolved (e.g. working farms, hobby farms, pets).

I define pastoral as the comfortable balance between people and their place in nature. In the classically pastoral, the human imprint is benign and the attitude respectful, suggesting contentment. The work of 18th and 19th century British painters have influenced my approach to composition and light. As an environmental photographer, I’m not drawn to oil spills, scars on the land, or unsightly encroachments; but I am looking for something humans effect nonetheless.

The next evolution of this work began with a recent portrait session with Curly, arguably the most famous goat in Minnesota. You can see her beauty shot above. Curly was brought to church as part of a live nativity scene, but escaped. She was on the lam for 29 days in Fergus Falls, MN. Her fame comes from her mention on The Late Show with David Letterman, as she had garnered quite the reputation.

After photographing Curly, I saw how strongly people responded to her, reaffirming my commitment to continue the project. The attention Curly received wasn’t just about her new found fame, but it also represented a connection for many to home grown pride. Somehow the image had thrown open their consciousness, prompting them to respond.

When I set off on this 3-year project to document this relationship, I knew the direction I wanted to explore, but not what I would find. The project evolved from almost an intimate concern with the animals themselves to a more inclusive attempt to anchor these animals in the landscape. The implications of the animals in relationship to the land interests me, much as what Frank Gohlke created with grain elevators or Tim Flach has created with horses.

I will not be in search of blue ribbon “specimens,” but will give the non-winners an opportunity to be photographed and highlighted in this project, The Unchosen Ones.

Goat enthusiast and textile artist, Karen Aakre, assists the process of creating a portrait of Curly. The animals don't speak my language, yet we share something in common: They had no schedule, nor did I! Approaching them with curiosity often pays off. Just as long as we laugh during the process!

Goat enthusiast and textile artist, Karen Aakre, assists the process of creating a portrait of Curly. The animals don't speak my language, yet we share something in common: They had no schedule, nor did I! Approaching them with curiosity often pays off. Just as long as we laugh during the process!

GOALS

A primary goal is to produce a series of 10-14 portraits of county fair animals in their environments, highlighting the modern pastoral of the Minnesota landscape. This body of work, The Unchosen Ones, will be exhibited and include public discussions. This project was submitted to the Minnesota State Arts Board in 2015 for the Artist Initiative Grant.

In the proposed final exhibitions and gallery talks, attendees will vote for a winner from among the photos before and again at the talk. They will be given an evaluation to comment on their experience and whether their choice changed.

The secondary goal is to engage Minnesotans about how we choose winners. I will attend breeding shows and county fairs to meet animals and their owners, and schedule locations for photo shoots in their home environments.

BARRIERS

There is a great deal of preparation required to be in the right place at the right time, and even then, one might come away empty-handed. I want to observe something fresh; I am open to what happens rather simply seeking a pre-visualized image. I understand that I must refrain from anticipating what I will find and photograph, remaining open to possibility. Occasionally, Inconvenience is a given; with farm animals come flies, dung, the sweet farm perfume, and exposure to the elements. I bring along a decent pair of rubber boots and a positive outlook.

You can’t pose these subjects. You can’t control most of the components of the shoot. When photographing animals, even domesticated ones, you invite uncertainty. And you may come away with nothing to show for all the planning and time.

My photographs explore the pastoral ideal embodied in Minnesota farmlands. My work reflects the modern pastoral exposing both utilitarian and mythical connections between humans, hoofed animals and the landscape. 

My photographs explore the pastoral ideal embodied in Minnesota farmlands. My work reflects the modern pastoral exposing both utilitarian and mythical connections between humans, hoofed animals and the landscape. 

COMMUNITY COMPONENT

A gallery talk will accompany the exhibition. As noted previously, each talk will invite people to select a winner by voting for their favorite image before the conversation begins. The talk will consist of a two way exploration of the decision making that goes into selecting a winner, what are the criteria, what about those not chosen, what are they lacking. Conversations might also include how we do this in our everyday lives- choose winners, leaving others unchosen, and the ramifications of this in our relationships with the human animals in our lives. Then people will be invited to choose a winner again. There isn’t a right or wrong, but it will be interesting to see if the results change after more consideration.

IMACT ON THE STATE AND CREATIVE COMMUNITY

The work will also contribute to the cultural heritage of the region and community in two ways: by documenting the state’s cultural heritage tied to the value of and kinship we share with domesticated animals and the pastoral landscape, and by inviting the conversation examining our predilection to pick winners and the implications for those not chosen.