March – April 2009 About The Cover
They were avatars of God, manifestations of supernatural powers, the source of humankind’s first metaphors, presences that solicited us with the mystery of being (at least for the poet Rilke). What are they now, the animals? Strangers, problems, victims, companions, sentimental projections? Photography mirrors this marginalization of the animal kingdom and is perhaps a symptom of it, or a cause. For the camera arose with the industrial world, the positivist, objectifying, colonizing, resource-exploiting world, and with every click of the shutter, by everyNational Geographic naturalist or tourist on safari, we seem to hear a gunshot. It makes no difference if the pictures are beautiful; they only confirm loss. Art photographers, for the most part, have looked elsewhere. Review the standard histories and you will see buildings and people aplenty but, aside from isolated examples, no beasts. By the time of Garry Winogrand’s zoo pictures, they were furniture on a social stage, restricted, not to say empty, signifiers. Yet while others turned away, Henry Horenstein kept looking, and now his photographs, so modest and yet so engrossing, seem just what we need to restore a lost intimacy with beings not made in our image. A selection of Horenstein’s photographs, under the title Animalia (also the title of a lovely book by Pond Press), are on view at Boston’s Robert Klein Gallery (February 27–March 28). “Inquisitive,” is how Klein describes their attitude, and in the case of the cover photograph the word applies equally to the photographer and his subject, Selene vomer, aka, the Lookdown Fish. Like so many of Horenstein’s animals, the creature projects an independent sentience, underscoring the profound truth that other lives (whether human, piscine or even arachnid) have other centers. On an aesthetic level, the images in Animaliaowe obvious debts to Edward Weston and Edward Steichen in their astonishing textures and to Harry Callahan in their graphic structure. Some are formal studies, some apparently casual glimpses, and all deeply attentive. Says Horenstein, “I want pictures that have great form, tight composition, striking light, and the ability to amaze. But more basically, I love animals and think they are great subjects—mysterious, surprising, sensuous, weird, funny. And the closer you get, the more you feel these qualities.” Feeling is the key word, and the paradox of these pictures. For just as the logic of preserving species is only effective if it is mobilized by passion, so the objectifying device of the camera is also the tool that can, even at this late hour, bring us closer to the species whose demise it seems to foretell. “People want these presences on their walls,” adds Robert Klein. “While pictures of people we don’t know can be disturbing, these are comforting.” Can we love at a distance? These pictures say yes. And what we love, in the end, we may be willing to defend.