Animal


"The haunting animal portraits of the American Elliot Ross question our relation to other creatures and the ways we perceive the animal world."

  —Manfred Zollner, fotoMAGAZIN





"[T]his project is a remarkable and serious analysis of the animal world."

  —Denis Brudna, Photonews



"In their intensity, [Elliot Ross's photographic animal portraits] seem like reflections on the ethical relationship between human and animals."

  —Elke Gruhn and Sara Stehr, Curators, Nassauischer Kunstverein Wiesbaden



"The texture of the creatures makes it feel like they are under your own skin."

  —Richard Lang, President, Electric Works, San Francisco



"The subject of animals is rather popular among photographers, but the overwhelming majority adopts a primitive treatment. Elliot Ross opens up this subject in a way that is not only masterful — he translates it to another qualitative plane."

  —Vladimir Neskoromny, Foto & Video (Moscow)



"This book is a feast  for the eyes and leaves one wondering if those animals contemplate us in the same way."


  Apogee Photo Magazine




Griffin Museum of Photography (from the press release)
 
Animal is featured in the Griffin Gallery of the Griffin Museum January 21 through March 28. An opening reception with the artist is January 21, 7-9 PM.
 
In describing the underlying question of his series, Ross quotes contemporary American philosopher Cora Diamond:
 
In the case of our relationship with animals, a sense of the difficulty with reality may involve... a sense of astonishment and incomprehension that there should be beings so like us, so unlike us; so astonishingly capable of being companions of ours and so unfathomably distant.
 
 How powerfully strange it is that they and we should share as much as we do, and also not share; that they should be capable of incomparable beauty and delicacy and terrible ferocity; that some among them should be so mind-boggingly weird or repulsive in their forms or in their lives.
  


The following is a revised and expanded version of an article which appeared in Le Journal de la Photographie on February 25, 2013:
 
 
Thank God I didn’t know what I was doing.
—William Kentridge
 
 
Objects of Contemplation
 
 

When asked about what I do when I make a photograph, my first thought is that I don’t work conceptually. In other words, I don’t have an idea or concept which I am trying to illustrate, investigate, or portray. Having been a conceptual artist earlier in my life, I discovered this approach to be too confining, so I abandoned it.

What I do instead is act upon a compelling emotion by making an object of contemplation in the form of a photograph. This is the beginning of a process.

In the case of Animal, a project I began in 2007, and in which there are, so far, over a hundred images, the initial emotion was too complex to define, and concerned the reaction I had to a photograph of the only non-human animal with which I have ever lived, Sadie the cat.

More than twenty years old, Sadie the cat had died after suffering from several severe illnesses over several years’ time. During those years, my wife Ellen and I kept Sadie alive by forcing pills down her throat, administering sub-cutaneous fluids by injection to the neck, and in other ways ministering to her failing health. In short, we established the kind of physical intimacy that only caregivers can have with a patient.

After Sadie’s death, Ellen pinned a snapshot she had made of the living Sadie to a wall in our apartment. This was not an ordinary snapshot but an extreme close-up of Sadie apparently staring into the camera’s lens—an image amazingly evocative of her living presence.

As you might imagine, what predominated in my mind at first were feelings of loss and sadness. What followed, however, were feelings of puzzlement about life, both human and non-human. Questions, but vague questions. Perhaps kept purposely vague, because I wanted to experience the emotion as fully as possible. I say “perhaps” because even my thoughts and motivations were unclear. In retrospect, I think I was trying to avoid the phenomenon known as "verbal overshadowing" in which the left hemisphere of the brain, which thinks in words, displaces the product of the right hemisphere, which thinks in pictures—the description that kills the image.

What I did, eventually, know I wanted to do was photograph a variety of non-human animals so that I could look at them, get to know them better, as one can only do through rendering them in an artistic medium*, while allowing myself the freedom to make transformative changes, and then look at them, and think about them, again. These are the aforementioned “objects of contemplation.”

But the process hasn’t ended there. Working on a series of images the way I do, there is always a cumulative effect—the way preceding images affect my current focus. And while I don’t want to describe what I do, or have done, in words, I haven’t avoided the words of others. I’ve read extensively, from Darwin to Derrida, on the subject of non- human animals—ethology, genetics, philosophy, ecology. These readings have informed my work in some small and subtle ways and have certainly made me feel more educated. I now know something of what we share with other animals and something of what we don’t share as separate species—and that, because of what we don’t share, we can never completely know what it is like to be a seal, a monkey, a toucan, a pelican, a fish, a hyena, or a frog.

—Elliot Ross, 2013

*In this case, my artistic process begins with a photograph. Then I use digital imaging software to work on the image in ways that are similar to darkroom techniques but with the kind of precise control that makes it possible to treat it as if it were a drawing.