These images reflect my thoughts about animal iconography while attending three workshops at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta, Canada 1999-2003. The photographs were taken in the Glenbow Museum, at the Calgary Stampede and through the fence at a Petting Zoo. Like much of my photography, they show concern about animals confined and dominated by human beings.
The Glenbow museum was founded in 1966. When I visited it in 1999, it still had displays of creatures preserved. Birds were displayed in glass cases where they could be seen up close and unmoving. Large animals like bison, moose, bear elks and big-horn sheep (or their heads) were transformed into objects that gave visitors a chance to inspect beasts they’d never seen or would have been afraid of in real life. Today, digital cameras with zoom lenses afford better means of accessing our animal counterparts. Animal displays like Glenbow’s have been supplanted by audience-engaging realistic dioramas like the ones in the Royal Museum of British Columbia in Victoria. My sepia toned prints of the museum subjects evoke past times. They bring up the question of what we learned in the Age of Enlightenment (and continue to learn now) from the processes of collecting, classifying and preserving once-living things for the purpose of study.
At the Calgary Stampede, the Pacific National Exhibition, rodeos and country fairs, sales of domesticated animals are common. These could be seen as expressions of the values that underlie our systems for the production and treatment of animals. For example, Alpacas which originally lived wild in the Andes now live in North America where they are domesticated and valued for their wool and the perfection of their breeding. The alpacas conform to human concepts of beauty by wearing colourful ribbons and sporting braided tails. The winning animals’ trophies symbolize a system we commonly support. The last photo in this sequence shows a young alpaca contained within a metal-barred cage, separated from other members of the herd and open to the stares of tourists and buyers.
This collection of photographs aims to incite the viewer to question the values that underlay our perceptions.
One is disturbed by the unnatural environment of the Petting Zoo and its lack of educational values. The mobile, living soft bodies of creatures contrast with the cold steel mesh fences that impede their freedom. Here animals from vary different geographic regions are placed together in a single cell. The emus share a pen a donkey, a goat and a turkey. What do we expect our children to learn from the experience of looking at them in this place? These collection of photographs aim to incite the viewer to question what the values that underlay our perceptions.