Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for February, 2008

Harmony between humans and animals created via Photoshop

Posted by lisagbrown on February 26, 2008

photoawardwinner2.jpg

A scandal has arisen in China in which one of the winners of CCTV’s Top 10 News Photos of the Year (2007) has recently admitted to photo-shopping his picture. The artist, Liu Weiqiang, is a well-established and respected photographer who (before this incident) was the assistant director of photography at the Daqing Evening News.

Weiqiang’s winning photo is of the newly constructed Qinghai-Tibet Railway, a structure that has been marred in controversy over its potential impact on the migration patterns of the Tibetan antelope. In the artist’s photo (above), a pack of antelope is shown ambling beneath the behemoth structure, apparently unaware or unafraid of the train passing above.

The photo came under intense scrutiny when numerous bloggers noticed inconsistencies in the image. The photographer, who originally claimed to camp out for 8 days waiting for the perfect shot, has now admitted that he photo-shopped two separate photos to create the award-winning image. At first he defended the image claiming that it was not intended as a news photo. It was originally used as the poster image for the Kekexili nature preservation area with the intent, he claimed, of helping the antelope. Since the uproar, however, Weiqiang admitted his wrongdoing and resigned from his post at the Daqing Evening News.

The artist’s reasoning for falsifying the image remains unclear. However, protests and concern over the train’s impact on the environment perhaps created a need for propaganda material to dispel public outcry. At the very least, it can be said that the doctored image was born out of a divisive situation between environmentalists and urban expansionists. There was a need to prove, in some capacity, that human encroachment on this territory does not impact the existing flora and fauna. Before the photo was revealed as a fake, it certainly made an impression on the public. As Weiqiang said on the evening he accepted his award, “I want to be able to capture the harmony among the Tibetan antelopes, the train, men and nature on July 1, 2006. I want to express through this photograph that the earth belongs to everybody. Everybody wants to see harmony among men and animals.” Now, however, it is hard to say how this incident will influence debates over the harmony between the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and the Tibetan antelope.

Meanwhile, Weiqiang’s photo has been stripped of its winning title, and the impact of the structure on the antelope population remains unclear.

Sources and further reading:

Chinese Editor Resigns over Fake Tibet Photo (Yahoo)

Photoshop Helps Photographer Win Award (China Economic Review)

Interview Transcripts with Weiqiang(Shanghaiist)


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Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Art, Photography, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

‘I Can Has Cheezburger’ and ‘I Has A Hot Dog’

Posted by lisagbrown on February 22, 2008

ocean.jpgIf the title of this post looks like gibberish to you, let me explain. Two of the top blogs on wordpress are:

I Can Has Cheezburger and

I Has A Hot Dog.

Each site is devoted to humorous photos of pets, pictures that are made even more amusing by strange captions written in broken English. These sites have become something of a phenomenon, generating pages and pages of contributions from loyal readers and their pets.

There is an unusual addictive quality to these websites. You simply can’t view a photo of a cat striking an amusing pose without feeling compelled to look at another. And another. And another. The urge to scroll down to view more and more pictures, to click “next page” again and again, is a bit baffling. What is it about these benign and charming photos that has captured the attention of the web community?

monorail.jpgContemporary office drone culture perpetuates an environment where short, funny interludes are a valued commodity. Content that provides a lot of entertainment without much time investment (and can be quickly closed in the event of a surprise visit from a supervisor) is a perfect solution for bored masses who inhabit a cubicle. (Disclosure: I consider myself a member of this bored community.)

But it’s not just the format that has made these sites such a success. In fact, this type of interactive pet-sharing seems to have begun years ago with the site stuffonmycat.com. The telling tagline of this website is “stuff + cats = awesome,” and it provides exactly what the url suggests: pictures of cats with stuff on them. The “stuff” can include household objects, food, jewelry, clothing, even other animals.

Upon first learning about these sites my immediate concern was for the welfare of the animals. But there is no evidence of mistreatment in any of these pictures. The truth is, the images look like silly pictures I might have taken of my own animals. The worst that can be said is that sometimes the animals look mildly annoyed, or slightly embarassed.

20080220-hunny2.jpg20080220-hunny2.jpg20080220-hunny2.jpgIn truth, what is so compelling about these sites is what they reveal about how people feel about their animals. After scrolling through page after page of goofy animal pictures, it becomes obvious how much these animals are adored. They are obsessed upon even, to the degree that every amusing tidbit of their lives is documented. Further still, people are driven to share the joy they derive from their relationship with their animal. In posting a photo, a person is not only sharing a funny picture. He or she seems to be saying: ‘look at who I come home to every day. Look at what a unique individual my animal is. Look at how lucky I am to share my life with this critter.’ These sites are not just a fun way to pass the time at work. These sites are an homage to the profundity of the love between a person and his or her animal companion.

(First two photos are from I Can Has Cheezburger, the last photo is from Stuff on My Cat.)


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Posted in Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Photography, Representations | 1 Comment »

The photography of Steve Bloom

Posted by lisagbrown on February 19, 2008

UntamedcoverUntamed, the new coffee table book by Steve Bloom, is a photographic menagerie of five continents-worth of animals. Bloom spent ten years traveling throughout the world to amass a collection of photos that are as beautiful as they are insightful.

Often animal imagery suffers from being unilateral in its meaning — that is, the animal is conceptually flattened to depict a less-than-dynamic being. But the wonderful thing about Bloom’s work is how he seamlessly traverses a range of ideas in his vast portfolio. Each photo tells a story about an animal and it also reveals the complicated and diverse ways that Bloom sees animals.

In some pictures, the animals fill the frame with such abundance that they seem to become the landscape itself. They are not complacent residents of a habitat; instead, they ARE the habitat:

Wildebeests

In other photos, Bloom reveals the interlocking relationship between animals and landscape, and the elemental essence of a single species. In these photos the animals are integrated but unique from their habitat. They are OF the landscape:

Cheetah

In still other photos, Bloom manages to create portraiture that captures the unique individuality of his subjects. He shoots with a sensitivity and tenderness that is common in pet portraiture, but extraordinarily rare in wildlife photography:

Tiger

Bloom is at his best when he marries these three perspectives. In those unique moments he is able to communicate the vastness of landscape, the elemental essence of species and the uniqueness of individuality — all in a single photo. I imagine that achieving the integration of these concepts in a single photo is something a photographer waits a lifetime for:

Chimp

As Bloom himself explains, “There remains the ongoing challenge to portray life in all its manifestations, and create images that reveal the very essence of what it is to be a living being.” Check out Bloom’s amazing work at his website, www.stevebloom.com.


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Posted in Animals, Art, Identity, Photography, Representations | 1 Comment »

An End to Animal Testing?

Posted by lisagbrown on February 15, 2008

USA Today reported yesterday that three government agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Toxicology Program and the National Institutes of Health, have formed a coalition that could potentially end the testing of chemicals and drugs on animals. According to USA Today, the coalition’s primary reasons for this effort are a result of, “the public’s “unease” with animal testing, in addition to a growing number of new chemicals and high testing costs.” New technologies allow chemicals and drugs to be tested on isolated human cells, which are then analyzed by a computer. This is a more efficient, precise and cost-effective method of toxicity testing. The transision is expected to take about ten years.

The article can be read in full in the USA Today Science and Technology section.

Posted in Animal Welfare, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

What is This Love? Part I.

Posted by lisagbrown on February 14, 2008

From Baghdad with LoveIt’s Valentine’s Day today, so it’s appropriate to tell you that lately I’ve been thinking a lot about love. There are a number of different kinds of love: romantic love, sexual love, familial love, friendship love … and these are all well defined in our culture. People experience the varied and integrated roles of love with the expectation that other people feel the same.

But what about love of animals? This remains enigmatic in the sense that our culture is still wrestling with the legitimacy and definition of this love. For some people, it is hard to imagine that love can be extended to include another species. They see love for animals as a representation of human love that is absent: the absence or inadequacies of a spouse; a substitution for human offspring; or too few human friends. Meanwhile, other people whole-heartedly (and without hesitation) include animals within the bounds of familial love and argue that human-animal relationships are unique bonds, not substitutes for anything else. The extremes of these two viewpoints demonstrate the fractured relationship our culture has with animals.

The book pictured at left, From Baghdad, With Love, tells a tale that could only be described as a love story. Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman was fighting in Fallujuah when he and his battalion found a tiny puppy. They called him Lava, and spent the next few months protecting the pup until they could smuggle him out of the country. In the backdrop of a violent and ravaged landscape, Kopelman found something — someone — to live for. With all the death and pain around him, he saw someone he could rescue, even if he could help no one else.

An excerpt from this book, along with links to news stories about it, can be found on the blog littera scripta .

Posted in Human-Animal Bond, Literature | 2 Comments »

Underdog ResQ

Posted by lisagbrown on February 9, 2008

Underdog ResQI’ve just encountered a really wonderful dog adoption agency that I recommend to anyone in the New England area. As they explain in their brochure, the agency specializes in the underdogs at area shelters: “dogs [that] would have otherwise been euthanized because they had been in the shelter for too long, they could not adapt to the shelter environment, there was no adoption program or there was no space for them.” Each dog is fostered in a caring home that works on training and behavior. Underdog ResQ places dogs of every breed, shape and size.

Underdog ResQ is always looking for volunteers, foster families, and loving homes in which to place their dogs. Click the logo above to go to their website.


Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Human-Animal Bond | 1 Comment »

Allison Argo’s Tale of Two Species

Posted by lisagbrown on February 7, 2008

Crash


A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of sitting in on an editing session for the upcoming film, Crash: A Tale of Two Species. Filmmaker Allison Argo weaves an incredible story about shorebirds and horseshoe crabs that is utterly compelling. As she and I discussed, she initially thought one of the challenges of the film would be in the difficulty of generating a relationship between the human audience and the horseshoe crabs. The crabs are as distinct from humans as a species can get. With their hard shell and hidden face, there is very little for viewers to visually relate to. But, as I can attest, she accomplishes this feat with subtlety and grace. By the end of the film I felt a connection with the crabs that I really hadn’t thought possible. It is in instances like these that I am reminded how wonderful the tool of anthropomorphism can be; how it can enable a human to genuinely step inside the shoes of such a unique creature.

 

Please set your DVR and watch this incredible testament to the integrated, interspecies, intertwined relationships between red knot shore birds, horseshoe crabs, and humans.

 

Sunday at 8pm on PBS. Check your local listings (or click here) for more information.

 

Posted in Animal Behavior, Film, Human-Animal Studies, Television | Leave a Comment »

The Hyena and Other Men

Posted by lisagbrown on February 3, 2008

PieterHugo

[Dayaba Usman with the monkey Clear, Nigeria 2005, Pieter Hugo]

The latest issue of Entertainment Weekly highlights a book by photojournalist Pieter Hugo called The Hyena and Other Men. EW describes the pictorial essay:

Transfixed by a cell-phone pic of a group of Nigerian men walking with a shackled hyena, prizewinning South Africa-based photographer Pieter Hugo felt compelled to go to Nigeria himself. Once there, he traveled beside the so-called Hyena Men, a roving band of performers who entertain villages with their pet hyenas, monkeys, and pythons … [the book] features 33 tender portraits of the troupe and their animal companions. (by Kate Ward, Entertainment Weekly)

The photo essay can be viewed in its entirety by clicking here. Certainly, the photo above is an exercise in contradiction, as our relationship with animals often is. The young baboon’s arm is gently, almost territorially wrapped around the thigh of his human friend, which suggests a unique affection and bond. Yet the baboon’s human companion holds a metal leash in his hands and has an ominous training stick casually draped across his feet. The photo essay reveals tender and frightening truths about the human-animal bond, the use of animals in entertainment, the role of animals in poverty, and the complications that arise when commerce and love are two sides of the same coin. As Hugo explains in the essay’s accompanying text, “I realised that what I found fascinating was the hybridisation of the urban and the wild, and the paradoxical relationship that the handlers have with their animals – sometimes doting and affectionate, sometimes brutal and cruel.”

Hugo ends his written introduction by declaring that when Europeans ask only about the welfare of the animals depicted (and not about the humans), they have missed the point of his photographs. Instead, he says, “we could ask why these performers need to catch wild animals to make a living. Or why they are economically marginalised. Or why Nigeria, the world’s sixth largest exporter of oil, is in such a state of disarray.”

Yet, I might ask him in return, aren’t questions about the welfare of humans and animals inextricably bound? I hope that in his writing, Hugo was merely highlighting the absence of humanitarian concerns, and was not suggesting that animal welfare issues should be ignored. It seems to me that the exclusion of humans over animals (or animals over humans) creates an artificial divide that threatens the health and well-being of each creature. The lives of these humans and animals are intertwined with the economic issues facing Nigeria, so our concerns ought to be as well. Hugo’s photographs demonstrate these links with haunting clarity.


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Posted in Animal Welfare, Art, Ethics, Human-Animal Bond, Photography | 2 Comments »