6 spring street
press mentions :: Colleen Plumb | Animals are Outside Today
Love and Loss and the Animal Kingdomby Kerri MacDonald
The New York Times, Lens Photography Blog
There is no single word that can define “Animals Are Outside Today,” the photography book that Colleen Plumb has worked on for more than a decade.
The images range – topically and visually – from comical to shocking. (The slide show above includes images that some readers may consider graphic.) Many of the photographs are subtle, like the flock of geese caught in an airborne “V” behind a string of holiday lights [Slide 10]. The project’s diversity reflects the animal kingdom’s place in American culture.
Animals are outside. But they are everywhere else, too.
While in graduate school in 1997, Ms. Plumb was exploring how people surrounded themselves with the natural world. “I embarked on this journey of noticing the way that nature and animals are around us,” she said. But over the years, she began looking at the ways in which animals came into people’s lives — particularly in a manufactured sense, and particularly in the city. (Ms. Plumb was born in Chicago and still lives there.)
She carries a camera with her most of the time. That was how, one Father’s Day, she managed to snap the fly preying on the dead mouse [Slide 5]. Or, on a trip to Indiana, the departed dog on the roadside [Slide 11]. “We love animals,” she said. “We’re attached to them. There’s the reality of the tragedy. Just that whole idea of love and loss.” The “we” is very much an American “we.” Aside from a turtle and a lobster that Ms. Plumb photographed in Mexico, all of the feathered, furry and slimy creatures she documented were in the United States. “We have our own level of what is normal,” she said.
Take, for instance, her daughter, Ruth. The family lives near Devon Avenue in Chicago, where there are substantial Indian, Pakistani and Jewish populations. One day at the market, Ms. Plumb and Ruth saw a lamb’s head for sale – eyes and all. [Slide 15.] As the child’s tears flowed, Ms. Plumb decided to sneak back later to make her purchase ($3). She took the picture, and then she and Ruth placed the head in the undercarriage of a stroller and pushed it to a nearby park, where they buried it in the grass. “If anybody saw what we were doing, they would be like, ‘What a bunch of freaks,’ ” Ms. Plumb said with a laugh.
Her view on the world – and on her project – has been influenced by her two young daughters, who had not been born when she started photographing animals. “The things that I find and see and I’m aware of,” she said, “a lot of it comes from being around children.”
Ms. Plumb has been taking photos since she was a child herself, making the best of “one of those flat cameras that were the shape of an ice cream sandwich.” After working as a graphic designer for a few years, she went to graduate school to study art photography. She is now a teacher herself at Columbia College.
Her project is not supposed to be didactic. She just wants to raise questions about the contradictory nature of the human-animal relationship. “I’m not opposed to the consumption of animals,” Ms. Plumb said. “It’s just hopefully raising the questions about consciousness. How we use them, or how we consume them, or how we treat them.”