New photo book shows that cats are art worthy

© Jamie Campbell

© James Johnson

It is no secret that photographs and videos of domestic cats make up some of the most viewed content on the internet; there was keyboard cat, grumpy cat and lest we forget the rescue “perma-kitten” lil Bub.

Two years ago New York’s Museum of Moving Image (MoMi) hosted the exhibition How Cats Took Over the Internet — a history of cat memes, kitty cams and the celebrity status some of our feline friends eventually received.

Jason Eppink, the associate curator of digital media at MoMi reminds us that before the internet, there was a long perceived pejorative surrounding cats and their owners, who were labelled crazy cat ladies and lonely spinsters. Dog owners on the other hand were considered respectable, normal citizens. “When the internet gave us a peek at everyone else’s cats, and how owners are delighted with the silly and obnoxious things they do, it changed their perception,” he explains. “It was no longer a private thing to be secretly happy when your cat decides to knock a drink over for no reason and give you a blank look.”

Cats were breaking into mainstream culture again, as they once had in Ancient Egypt and Persia. But the art world still has a tendency to be snobby about seemingly low art forms embraced by the masses.

Writers have long-perceived cats as a suitable companion in solitude: there was Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway whose cats’ descendants still live on in his old home in Key West; Charles Dickens who famously said “What greater gift than the love of a cat?” and T. S. Elliot whose cat-themed poetry inspired a musical. There was Doris Lessing who wrote “If a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape, then cat is a diagram and pattern of subtle air”; Jorge Luis Borges who of cats said “You belong to another time. You are lord of a place bounded like a dream.” Sylvia Plath also loved cats and compared their nine lives with hers.

If cats are good enough to be a muse for those who create, perhaps they should be reconsidered by patrons and critics.

One year before the exhibition at MoMi, Jon Feinstein of Humble Arts Foundation and Amani Olu were caught in a different kind of discussion that reflected on some of the same questions of the museum exhibition — but differently to it, they wanted to prove that cats had a place in contemporary photography that was “dad-joke free.” Cats could and would be a an artistic subject to be reckoned with.

Humble Arts Foundation delivered on this promise with its curated selection of cat photographs in the newly released photo book Humble Cats.

While at times the imagery is pleasingly kitsch, it also goes beyond the meme with more contemplative photographs that ask questions and provide few answers.

Compositionally and aesthetically there is a diversity to be found within these pages, from the black and white Cartier-Bresson-esque street photographs of a cat leaping by James Johnson, to Adelaide Ivanova’s unsettling capture of a dishevelled, soaking wet cat with piercing red eyes that match the carpet. Susan Worsham’s, Tamara Kametani’s and Rich Rollin’s quiet images are calming to look at, though without provoking in the viewer what psychology student Rebecca Dyer dubbed as “cute aggression”, i.e. that strange desire to squeeze cute animals to death that we so often feel upon viewing feline celebrities.

While the focus in Humble Cats is not anthropocentric, the cats portrayed in this photo book are still treated with the same tenderness applied in human portrait and street photography. The viewer can hardly fail to notice the individuality expressed by each cat subject.

Reassuringly, there has been a surge of serious cat photography this past year.

In 2017 Schillt released its much anticipated photo book PhotoCat, with photographs of cats captured by photographers of renown including Martin Parr and Rena Effendi.

Kazakh photographer Evgeniya Gor is just one of a new breed of Instagram photographers who have turned their lens away from people and instead focused another subject: cats. Early last year we spoke with her about her poetic photographs of street cats in Astana which still conform to the traditional rules of street photography.

My hope with this trend is that artists continue to recognise the beauty, individuality and consequential photographic potential of cats and other animals. If we can recognise and appreciate their respective personalities in art, perhaps we’ll learn to be kinder to them too.

Humble Cats: New Cats in Art Photography is available for purchase from Yoffy press

© Natalia Wiernik

© Rich Rollins

© Audrey Bardou

© Rachelle Mozman

© Ben Alper

© Adelaide Ivanova

All images © Humble Arts Foundation & Yoffy Press

Behind-the-Scenes at a Hungarian Juvenile Detention Center

© Adam Urban

© Tamas Urban

It took time for the Hungarian photographer Adam Urban to earn the trust of the inmates at Aszód Juvenile Detention Center. Understandably, the young men were wary of “outsiders.” In fact, it took weeks for Urban to bring out his camera out for the first time.

A Modern Day Journey Through Native America

Juliana Brown Eyes-Clifford, a 23-year-old woman from the Oglala Lakota tribe, and her husband, Scotti Clifford, have formed the band, “Scatter Their Own” (which is the English translation for the word Oglala). They travel to various Indian reservations and other parts of the country to play their music. They are self-taught and play what comes out naturally from their hearts. Juliana is inspired to play for the youth and inspire them to branch out and learn about the arts and music which are topics not generally exposed on the reservation.

Mataya Harrison, 17, is a senior in high school. She has considered joining the Marine Corps post-graduation. “I’m very patriotic,” she says, “and being an Indian in the army makes even more sense. I don’t care about the fact that I might die.”

Sage Honga, 22, of the Hualapai tribe, earned the title of the 1st attendant in the 2012 annual pageant, Miss Native American USA. From that point forward, she has been promoting her platform encouraging Native youth to travel off the reservation to explore opportunities. In Native American culture, knowledge is power and the youth are encouraged to leave the reservations, get an education and then come home to give back to your people. Sage continues to speak to youth focusing on four fundamental principles: traditionalism, spirituality, contemporary issues and education. Sage is photographed at a sacred site of the Hualapai people and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon. She wears a hand-made dress and natural make-up on her face, traditionally used by the Hualapai.

On a cold and unsuspecting December morning in 1890, the US Cavalry troops marched into a Lakota camp near Wounded Knee Creek on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the Midwestern state of South Dakota in America. On that day, the regiment surrounded the encampment and carried out a massacre, killing over 150 men, women and children, records show hundreds died in the aftermath.

Joel Meyerowitz’s Magnum Opus “Where I Find Myself” is a Six-Decade Tour de Force

Bay/Sky, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1987.

New York City, 1975.

Joel Meyerowitz: Where I Find Myself (Laurence King) is a pièce de résistance, a masterful feat of publishing that sets the bar as high as it can possibly reach. The photographer’s magnum opus opens in the present day, with his most recent body of work and unfolds in reverse chronological order, leading us through a spellbinding life in photography that is simply unparalleled.

“How did I get here? Living on a farm in Tuscany. Nearly eighty years old, and once again the force of photography provokes me to think about something I’ve never considered as being of interest to me,” Joel Meyerowitz writes in the first chapter, which introduces the still lifes he has been creating between 2012 and 2017, documenting the objects of painters Paul Cézanne and Giorgio Morandi.

“I’ve always been a street photographer, first and foremost, and though I’ve danced to tunes other than the jazzy tempo of the street, it’s where my native instincts for seeing first developed,” the East Bronx native writes. “Half a century ago, I was part of a duo that walked the streets of New York City almost every day, Garry Winogrand and me. We loved it out on the streets, loved the surprise of the unexpected events, and our shared appreciation of them after they happened, and how it charged our conversations with new ideas.”

A Rare and Intimate Look at the Lives of Irish Traveller Children

The Los Angeles photographer Jamie Johnson first gained access to the Irish Travellers through the children of the community. They were intrigued by the artist and her camera, and quickly, they accepted her as “the crazy American photographer.” Once the young people trusted her, the adults followed.

The Story of the Fearless Woman Who Saves Elephants

In 1996, Sangdeaun “Lek” Chailert founded Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park, a safe haven for elephants rescued from the logging and tourism industries. For the last 20-plus years, she’s adopted these once-abused animals into her family. “They can spot her from across the fields and will run up to her, trumpeting excitedly,” Kelly Guerin, the filmmaker behind the short documentary Lek Chailert: An Unbound Story, remembers. “They surround her like they do an infant, protecting her under their giant bodies.” She, in turn, greets them with bananas and Thai lullabies. “I still don’t quite have words for it,” Guerin continues. “But in that tiny woman is the soul of an elephant.”

Loss and Hope in the Unseen Photos of Arlene Gottfried


Albino Musicians, 1980’s

Gospel Singers, 1990’s

In 1968, Arlene Gottfried, then eighteen, was the only female photography student in her class at FIT. Nearly half a century later, the New York gallerist Daniel Cooney entered a storage facility filled with some 15,000 photographs–black and white, color, polaroids–and set himself the task of going through the life’s work of a trailblazer. Gottfried initially planned on putting together a retrospective exhibition with Cooney, spanning decades of NYC street work, but she passed away on August 8th, 2017, before the project came to fruition. A Lifetime Of Wandering is the first show of her work since she’s been gone.

The FENCE 2018 Is Now Open for Entries

Photo by Brooke DiDonato

The FENCE, the biggest public art exhibition in North America, is back and better than ever. This year’s outdoor photography installations are set to return to Brooklyn, Boston, Atlanta, and Santa Fe, and they will also make debuts in Denver, Durham, Sarasota, and Calgary (the first international edition of the FENCE!). The expected turnout for the duration of the shows is six million people, and the combined length of this year’s FENCE exhibitions is 7,000 feet.

Since 2012, The FENCE by United Photo Industries has enriched communities by sharing photography in public spaces. The touring shows, printed beautifully on vinyl mesh and presented across an actual fence, have boosted the careers of passionate journalists and artists with stories to tell. The FENCE 2018 is offering more than $25,000 in prizes, including a $5,000 Project Support Grant and a coveted solo exhibition at Photoville for one Jury’s Choice Winner. Additionally, a People’s Choice Winner will receive Leica Camera Package and Master Class. In total, 80 outstanding photographers will be selected from the pool of submissions. Photographers are welcome to submit in any of the following categories: Creatures, Food, Home, Nature, People, Play, and Streets. All applicants will be considered for all exhibitions.

This year’s all-star jury includes 40 industry leaders, including photo editors from The New York Times, National Geographic, Le Monde, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and other leading publications and institutions. “The FENCE is such a gift to the community,” previous exhibiting photographer Claire Rosen says, “For artists, the exposure is incredible. For the general public, it is wonderful and unexpected to have contemporary artwork so accessible. I love that my work is seen by such a diverse cross section of people.”

The final deadline for submissions to The FENCE is April 10th, 2018, though Early Birds who submit prior to March 13th pay a reduced fee of $35. Photographers are invited to submit up to five images from a series. Submit here.

Remarkable Photos of Boring Things

If you visit the Instagram page for Polina Washington’s new project Solution, you’ll see only three words: “trash and nature.” And that’s exactly what the St. Petersburg photographer has chosen to shoot. In fact, she’s gone out of her way to observe human detritus and environmental fragments– in other words, all the things she once thought we never worth her time.

Breathtaking, Emotional Photos of Rescued Elephants

Sabachi, Kenya 2009. Photo © 2017 Joachim Schmeisser. All rights reserved.

LAYONI, Photo © 2017 Joachim Schmeisser. Photo © 2017 Joachim Schmeisser. All rights reserved.

Photographs of poached elephants are graphic and painful. In order to obtain their ivory tusks, poachers first shoot elephants with poison, and then, while the animals are still living and breathing, they rip their tusks (the equivalent of human teeth) from their skulls. Many die from hemorrhaging. They can survive for multiple days in agony. These images have been circulated widely in recent years, as elephant populations continue to be endangered by human activity.

But there’s only one such photograph in Elephants in Heaven by Joachim Schmeisser, a new photo book published by teNeues, and it’s at the volume’s conclusion. Cruelty isn’t Schmeisser’s chosen subject; instead, he tells a story of courage and kindness at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, where elephants orphaned by poaching are nurtured by human hands until they are able to lead a wild and free life with their kind.

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