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Man versus nature
February 6, 2008 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Domesticated by photographer Amy Stein explores the tension between settled and wild spaces.

Stranded is another collection of work dealing with the expectations of public and private space.

More self-explanatory: Women and Guns and Halloween in Harlem. She also has a fine blog.
posted by klangklangston (31 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
As a girl in the market for a rifle, I ran for the Women and Guns collection. It left me wanting more. Perhaps the banality is telling me something I'm not hearing.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:15 PM on February 6, 2008


If you'd hoped for a Girls With Guns set, I can understand being underwhelmed, but yeah, I'd bet that what she's trying to explore there is the relative banality of women with guns—it's a pretty gendered expression, rendered in muted tones and squared composition to emphasize the commonplace, even as women owning and using guns is not "normal" in America. They're not her strongest work, but I still thought that some of them were really nice.
posted by klangklangston at 2:24 PM on February 6, 2008


The final, "nice" link is by far my favorite. I see it as a portrait of safe queering, an intimate view of complex and unruly power dynamics, subject/object relationships, and (I'm famous for pulling things like this out of left field) it recalls to me the romantic clarity in the femininity of John William Waterhouse's subjects.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:54 PM on February 6, 2008


"Safe queering" is a pretty apt term for it. While I liked that final "nice," (obvs), I think it's a bit more flat and less ambiguous than the "really." I prefer the muddled femininity, on the whole.

But yeah, looking forward to her show out here in LA on 2/16.
posted by klangklangston at 3:03 PM on February 6, 2008


Not to snark, but as someone who lives in a town where there is a whole lot of tension between settled and wild spaces (which quite often involves animals), I find the Domesticated series pretty trite. To me, it reads like someone from a urban area's impression of how that tension plays out. Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see much in the images other than the juxtaposition between the wild animals and the human environment. What is there in these images that there isn't in, for instance, a tourist's shot of elk wandering through a town?
posted by ssg at 3:12 PM on February 6, 2008


I really like the Domesticated set. At random, the first three I clicked on were the same take on the topic (eying the other side warily). But once I made it through the whole set, I was impressed by the diversity of ways she approached the juxtaposition. This was my fav.
posted by salvia at 3:13 PM on February 6, 2008


SSG—Couple things. First off, as she mentions in the artist statement, all of these are reconstructions of real interactions. Second, most of them have a narrative that tourist shots don't necessarily contain, and, as salvia mentions, the connectivity of a collection. Third, don't sell amateur photographers short—tourist photos can be just as good as a fine artist.
posted by klangklangston at 3:15 PM on February 6, 2008


oh and i can't tell, but i think that those shots all use stuffed animals
posted by klangklangston at 3:21 PM on February 6, 2008


> i think that those shots all use stuffed animals

Oh, really? Bummer, that was part of why I was so impressed. I thought some of the shots weren't super-amazing in their own right but were amazing because she had managed to stake out the telephone pole until a BEAR appeared. (And I had been wondering how a deer got in a greenhouse.)

Anyway, still quite a cool project.
posted by salvia at 3:39 PM on February 6, 2008


What is there in these images that there isn't in, for instance, a tourist's shot of elk wandering through a town?

Composition.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:40 PM on February 6, 2008


Too bad about the flash interface.
posted by Sukiari at 3:40 PM on February 6, 2008


I found those photographs surprisingly intense and interesting. Thanks for the post klangklangston.
posted by nickyskye at 3:49 PM on February 6, 2008


Related, my comment re GlamGuns, Guns for girls, Women and Guns.
posted by nickyskye at 3:53 PM on February 6, 2008


klang: What I find off-putting about the images is that they seem to position the animals as natural and the human settlement as unnatural. While there is a lot of truth to this, it isn't that easy. Humans activity shapes the landscape far beyond the boundaries of our urban areas. The effects we have on ecosystems go far beyond the urbanization of habitat: we log, mine, build highways, hunt, pollute the air, water, and soil, and so on. All of these changes affect the ecosystems that we live in, changing the populations and behaviours of the animals around us.

Why are there so many deer in the town that I live in? The answer isn't just that we built a town in deer habitat. It has to do with how we dispose of our garbage, how we deal with predators, how we landscape our yards, how we harvest the forest in the surrounding area, how we hunt, how we keep pets, etc. Why have I found a pair of bear cubs behind my house that have lost their mother? Do we really need hounds to track down cougars? Just how dangerous is the cow moose with two calves? Why is there a bear in my neighbour's back yard playing with their inner tube? Why did that buck attack that dog? Why aren't the deer afraid of me anymore?

I understand that these are real interactions, but they feel like superficial treatments of the subject: more re-stagings than real examinations.
posted by ssg at 3:54 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


What is there in these images that there isn't in, for instance, a tourist's shot of elk wandering through a town?

Intent.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:09 PM on February 6, 2008


I'm finding the "Stranded" series evocative, but I really wish I hadn't read her statement about them.

Within these photos we see the faces of people stranded and evidence of lives broken down on the side of the road.

Lives? Cars, maybe. But "lives" might be reading a bit much into it. I know that the last time my car broke down on the road, it was my car that was broken, not my life.

And this: My photos challenge the viewer to slow down and witness scenes of futility playing out in an uneasy and alien space I just find pretentious and annoying.

I think most visual artists should stick to visual art, and not try to tell me what it "means", because it usually just makes me want to slap them.

Nice post, though!
posted by rtha at 4:15 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sys Rq: True, artistic intent is probably missing from a tourist's photograph, but the photographer's intent doesn't give the image any more meaning to me. Intent doesn't add something that isn't there (or at least, that I'm not seeing) to the image.

I'm not trying to blindly bash the artist here (FWIW, I find the Women and Guns series interesting), but the Domesticated series seems to me like a superficial, and thus poor, treatment of a subject that I happen to care about.
posted by ssg at 4:38 PM on February 6, 2008


Well, I agree with you there.

One photo is wow!; half a dozen and you realize they're staged, not particularly well, with overdramatic lighting effects. Having to stage them in the first place blurs her point tremendously.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:45 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


(That said, to criticize a photograph as "superficial" is a bit silly. It's never going to be a in-depth treatise on human encroachment upon the natural world.)
posted by Sys Rq at 4:48 PM on February 6, 2008


What I find off-putting about the images is that they seem to position the animals as natural and the human settlement as unnatural

Hmm, I found some of the human reactions to the other animals to be very instinctual.
posted by salvia at 5:03 PM on February 6, 2008


That said, to criticize a photograph as "superficial" is a bit silly.

Have you read her artist's statement?
posted by ssg at 5:08 PM on February 6, 2008


Boring stuff.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:08 PM on February 6, 2008


Lives? Cars, maybe. But "lives" might be reading a bit much into it. I know that the last time my car broke down on the road, it was my car that was broken, not my life.

I read this with a distinction between "broken" and "broken down". The faces on the sides of the road aren't caused by permanently broken lives, but in response to temporarily "broken down" lives. When chance decides to pull the plug on your ability to move within the infrastructure of your day- condemning you to a missed deadline or other such lost opportunity. It looks like the face that I make when my internet connection fails.

My photos challenge the viewer to slow down and witness scenes of futility playing out in an uneasy and alien space

That phrasing is annoying- I think maybe because of the part about challenging the viewer to "slow down"- I think any mention of how you are trying to "challenge a viewer" is obnoxious in an artist statement because it makes the assumption that we've never done this before. I do understand the concept of a scene of futility in an alien space- I had to watch my father running back and forth across a car-filled highway to collect architectural forms that had fallen off the roof of his car- the side of a highway is not a normal, safe, or comfortable place to be.

My situation was not during a traffic jam- so most of that was coming from danger- but I've driven past people broken down next to traffic jams, and I know I would feel uncomfortable sitting around pretty helpless next to a lot of metal boxes with people looking out at me.
posted by Esoquo at 6:36 PM on February 6, 2008


I felt the same way as ssg about the Domesticated series; there just didn't seem to be evocative of any sort of tension. It may be because I grew up in rural areas and around all sorts of animals I was hoping for something more. Now having read that they were staged I understand why they seemed so, well, fake.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:21 PM on February 6, 2008


Maybe it's because I've lived in entirely urban areas for so long and am totally alienated from nature, but I found Domesticated fascinating. I kind of liked the artificiality of the whole thing. Taking a picture of an actual wolf howling at a lamppost is a little maudlin, but setting one up with a stuffed wolf brings it back around to kind of funny. It's almost campy, and I tend to gravitate to that kind of thing, art-wise.

The Women and Guns ones were interesting as well.
posted by SoftRain at 10:53 PM on February 6, 2008


Taking a picture of an actual wolf howling at a lamppost is a little maudlin, but setting one up with a stuffed wolf brings it back around to kind of funny. It's almost campy, and I tend to gravitate to that kind of thing, art-wise.

If only I thought the artist was aware enough of this whole circular irony thing. The Statements seem to indicate otherwise.

This all seems pretty crap to be honest. Whoa, "tension". I guess if this is what passes for serious portfolios I should go buy another camera, though.
posted by blacklite at 11:46 PM on February 6, 2008


I liked the Stranded set. Maybe it's because I grew up by the side of a major freeway and spent my youth under overpasses and such, but I could relate to the loneliness of the side of the road that the set evoked. This one is one of my favorite. Hundreds of cars zipping by you, but you are still alone. And the bubble of comfort and safety and familiarity that pops when your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Very cool. It reminded me of why I liked the movie Freeway, with Keifer Sutherland and Reese Witherspoon. I think it touches on the same ideas.
posted by BinGregory at 4:03 AM on February 7, 2008


I like these a lot, particularly Domesticated and Halloween in Harlem. I like the stagy quality and the flat light and the tremendous clarity - they're one step away from documentary photography and that gives them a nice spooky edge.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:24 AM on February 7, 2008


"What I find off-putting about the images is that they seem to position the animals as natural and the human settlement as unnatural. While there is a lot of truth to this, it isn't that easy. Humans activity shapes the landscape far beyond the boundaries of our urban areas. The effects we have on ecosystems go far beyond the urbanization of habitat: we log, mine, build highways, hunt, pollute the air, water, and soil, and so on. All of these changes affect the ecosystems that we live in, changing the populations and behaviours of the animals around us."

Yes, and? This doesn't diminish the unfamiliarity or alienation that's being shown in these photos.

"I think most visual artists should stick to visual art, and not try to tell me what it "means", because it usually just makes me want to slap them."

I agree with you there, though I'll say two things—First, artist statements are usually sort of a second-language type thing for artists, so their articulation and erudition is almost always less than what should be shown in the work. The second thing I'll say is that I often like to see what the photographer was going for and judge him or her against that, and artist statements help there.

"Having to stage them in the first place blurs her point tremendously."

Kind of. I thought that introducing that artifice and restaging these encounters in the tradition of tableau (that "over-dramatic lighting" has an artistic tradition that she's alluding to) made them more interesting, not less. Instead of her blurring, I think you may be missing some of her point—these encounters, which can be seen as a conflict between intention and instinct, have to be reconstructed and have to be artificial (both in practical and aesthetic terms).

"I think any mention of how you are trying to "challenge a viewer" is obnoxious in an artist statement because it makes the assumption that we've never done this before."

That's a good point, especially because none of this work is particularly challenging conceptually or visually. I think she'd be better served by language that emphasized enveloping rather than confronting.

"there just didn't seem to be evocative of any sort of tension."

I don't understand how you can look at the first photo in the series and not see any tension in that image.

"If only I thought the artist was aware enough of this whole circular irony thing. The Statements seem to indicate otherwise."

I'm not seeing that from the statements—what makes you think that she's unaware of irony?
posted by klangklangston at 10:11 AM on February 7, 2008


From her statement about Domesticated, "We at once seek connection with the mystery and freedom of the natural world, yet we continually strive to tame the wild around us and compulsively control the wild within our own nature." Read and replace first person plural with first person singular. The salient aspect of the collection is its enactment of these concepts, not its discourse about them. That considered, there's a confessional quality to the photos that is foregrounded by the acknowledgement of self-as-context and artist-as-role, which an artist's statement represents. Perhaps that points to an irony, but I prefer to see it as existential and absurd.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:08 AM on February 7, 2008


Yes, and? This doesn't diminish the unfamiliarity or alienation that's being shown in these photos.

For me, it cheapens that unfamiliarity or alienation. Ignoring the context flattens the image so that it is little more than an easy juxtaposition that has little power.
posted by ssg at 11:31 AM on February 7, 2008


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