Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Tim Flach: Evolution

There have been two ways of photographing animals in the history of photography, I learn from Johannes Erler's foreword: the wildlife photographers who aim at showing animals as they live in the wild and the ones who put animals on public display in order "to show us all the great things animals can do when we humans are their masters."

It is a truly fascinating experience to scrutinise photographs of animals that are made to please their owners such as the standard poodle who has to wear its coat cut in a skeleton-like design because the owner of the poodle is a fan of Tim Burton's animation film "Corpse Bride" in which skeletons play an important role. Or the Hungarian Puli that has become so popular as a show dog because of the length of its coat.
"Photos of animals never fail to provoke a response. They trigger off emotions and activate an inner reflex to stroke the animal or stretch out a hand or take a step back or not even look", writes Jochen Siemens. Strangely enough, he goes on, photographs of people will not arouse the emotional reactions as animal photography.This thought was new to me and the more I contemplated it the more convincing it seemed.

Photos are an invitation to look. In order to understand them it is important to ask questions: What do my eyes show me? Why are the pictures presented in such and such an order? What does the photographer/the editor want to tell me?
Tim Flach's Evolution starts with a chapter entitled Water (97% of the water on earth is seawater, in which 30 million species are estimated to live) and the picture of a big-belly seahorse that does not look to me like a living being but as if made of glass. The picture on the following page, a warty comb jellyfish, looks even less like a living being and more akin to some flying saucer from outer space.

Photographs, in order to be understood, need to come with text that explains what we are looking at. And, in regards to Tim Flach's Evolution this is especially obvious for in most cases I would not even have been able to make a somewhat informed guess about what my eyes were showing me.
"I do not seek, I find", Picasso famously said. In Tim Flach's words: "When I'm on location shooting, I just wait to see what might reveal itself to me and in turn may surprise others." I warm to this approach, not least because it puts us in our proper place: we do not create the world, we find ourselves in it. Together with the animals that Tim Flach portrays.

When spending time with these extraordinary photographs one can feel (when we can detect familiar features such as mouth, nose or eyes, that is) that humans and animals belong to the same species, one can however also experience an uncanny mix of awe, wonder, and uneasiness, when we can't relate at all to what is in front of our eyes.

Tim Flach's Evolution is not only great photography, it also offers an educative experience.

Tim Flach
stern Fotografie Nr.74

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