Henry Horenstein, ‘Lookdown Fish - Selene Vomer’, ElliottHalls

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Series: "Animalia". This series succeeds as a lesson in looking on both scientific and artistic grounds. Horenstein’s creatures are decontextualized. They appear without the backdrop of the natural landscape, outside even the artificial world of the zoo or aquarium, and devoid of their true colour. As a consequence, the images are truly arresting; and in both a literal and a metaphorical sense, we see these animals as we have never seen them before. We notice details, and Horenstein focuses our vision on the unexpected: the foot of an elephant, the eye of an octopus, the pattern of feathers on a bird’s neck. He plays with scale. His photographs challenge us to look more closely, to ask questions and make connections. We think about form and function, we ponder modes of sensing and communication, examining these photographs we become scientists and discoverers. In some respects this series continues a centuries-old tradition of natural history illustration in the realm of photographs. In natural history illustration, animals are often presented in shallow space with limited landscape in order to promote close examination and study of detail. But as much as these photographs promote scientific inquiry, they are more than scientific illustration. Animals were the subjects of our first art and our first metaphors; and freed from the constraints of space and time, many of Horenstein’s creatures remind us of the lost magical connection between the “Animal World” and our own. They are unsettling and they mesmerize. They transcend and transgress familiar boundaries between subject and object. The Animalia Series – Photographer’s Notes I am a photographer, not a naturalist. My teachers were legendary artists Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, and Minor White. What they taught me was the value of traditional artistic concerns, such as good composition, interesting light, and compelling subject matter. The photographs shown here were made from 1995-2001. When I started this series, I was a bit insecure. So many great (and not so great) artists had tackled such subjects since the beginning of time. How could I add to this daunting history. One thing I did not want to do was simply document my animals, so I chose not to shoot in colour and not to show their environment. Rather, I choose to look closely and abstractly—to see my subjects for their inherent beauty, oddness, mystery. For this, I shot often with macro lenses, so I could get close, and worked with grainy, black-and-white films, printed in sepia, hoping to give them an old school, timeless feel. I worked in zoos and aquariums, not in the wild or underwater. This meant I could almost always find my subjects; they couldn't get too far away. The other advantage was that I could isolate and freeze them in a constrained space, almost as though they were models, posing for me in a studio. Photographing animals is very different from photographing people. You can't tell an elephant where to stand, and you can´t ask a skate to smile or a lizard to say "cheese." Instead, you must be very patient and wait, hoping your subject will do what you want it to do, or maybe something else unexpected that might make a good picture. When animals do cooperate, you have to be ready, because most won't stay in one position long. You have only a few seconds, and often less, to get your shot. As I watch and wait, I listen to other zoo visitors discuss the animals in human terms. "Look at that," they say. "He's smiling at us." Or, Poor thing, "she's bored." Or, "doesn't that monkey look like Uncle Ike?" In some ways animals do resemble humans, no doubt. After all, they are our forebearers. Still, I believe animals are their very own creatures, with unique, often surprising and altogether amazing characteristics. And that's what I've tried to capture in these pictures.

Signature: Signed in pencil verso

Image rights: © Henry Horenstein/Gallery Vassie. All rights reserved.

Henry Horenstein

About Henry Horenstein