I grew up in rural East Tennessee. I had miles of hill country to roam, laced with trails, braided by streams, and pocked with caves. As a young boy I made capturing animals my raison detre. As I look back, it seemed like it was instinct driving me to lift up rocks, to seize upon the critter beneath, and then to scrutinize it through the glass of a mason jar.
I loved animals. I had amassed a library of animal books that catalogued all the different types. By the pictures in the books, and with a careful eye, I could distinguish the subtle markings differentiated Northern Water Snake from a Common Water Snake. I learned there are twenty-three types of crawdads. A salamander tadpole develops differently than a frog tadpole. The information from these picture books, and my own empirical observations of animals gave me a sense of what kind of animals lived near me. The knowledge of how humans have organized the animal world gave me a sense of dominion over my own territory, over the vast woods that stretched beyond my familys fences.
The idea that the organization and cataloging of nature can instill some kind of psychological dominion over what is wild goes well beyond a boy feeling at home in the forest. The Bible refers to this human instinct when God commands Adam to name the animals as an exercise of human domination over them. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Britain sent their renown zoologists to the empires newly conquered territories to identify and name the animals. Animals all over the world are named for British royalty, explorers, and scientists.
These photographs are clinical views of animals found in their own environment. Each animal was photographed almost exactly where it was captured. Through the use of an 8x10 inch view camera, the tiniest detail is described; offering the observer more resolution than one could ever get with the human eye alone. A tension exists in this work.
I am seduced the specular grandeur of the water, by the lushness of the earth, and by the beauty of its animals - the quicksilver skin of a salamander, the graceful curve a tiny snake, the luxurious winter coat of a raccoon. The animal contained in a vessel becomes like an alter where we are offered the opportunity to meditate on them at our leisure, not for just a fleeting moment. Then again, these beautiful animals are trapped and isolated in an unnatural way that seems cruel. This work references the methodology of professionals who study animals out of a sense of wonder and love. Biologist, wildlife workers, and even nature photographers are prone to the same instincts that motivate a young boy to look under rocks – instincts that drive them to capture, instincts that can be interpreted as an expression of domination.
Our wilderness exists on islands. Like the animals inside these vessels, our wilderness parks isolate and protect wildlife from us, and protect us from the wildlife. Furthermore we protect ourselves from our own animal instincts, our internal wilderness. Like jars or fences, we have constructed physical and psychological barriers to contain what is wild. It is no wonder we see our species and ourselves outside nature, looking in.