Robin Schwartz is a friend. But that’s not why her work is on this blog. It is here because, for many months, I have been looking for work that describes a positive relationship between us and the non-human rather than the ubiquitous work that castigates ad nauseam the damage we are doing to our environment.
Robin’s series, Amelia’s world is one such body of work. It is humanistic and post-humanistic at the same time. It shows Ameila, Robin’s daughter, displaying a comfort and special affinity with a wide variety of animals – companion animals and more exotic ones too.
Last weekend I was at a gathering where some young kids were uncomfortable in the presence of a boisterous young puppy. As we get more and more urbanized, any meaningful contact with the non-human (or that which is not constructed by humans) is disappearing. In many so-called developed countries – and especially in the United States – over-protective parents bring up kids to be wary of anything that has not been fully processed, sanitized and otherwise rendered synthetic. Dogs should not be touched – they are dirty or dangerous or both. All other animals belong behind bars lest kids have contact with them and possibly receive some minor scratch.
In this culture, Robin’s photographs of a child in happy and relaxed contact with many different animals seem unusual and otherworldly if not altogether a little surreal. What an indictment of where we have got to in our self-centered and self-referential cultural prisons.
Robin is not particularly trying to make a point with these images (though I think she should!). Robin explains: “I am driven to depict relationships with animals but the photographs are not documents; they are evidence of the invented worlds that we explore and the fables we enact together. Photography gives us the opportunity to access our dreams, to discover the extraordinary.”
“The world that my daughter and I explore is one where the line between human and animal overlaps or is blurred.”
What feelings do you personally get when you view these images? I find them simultaneously uplifting and sad – sad because it seems so unreal in today’s world that children can have this sort of relationship with animals. For some they may generate anxiety – maybe imagining their own child so ‘dangerously’ exposed to these beasts.
Will our culture ever be able to regain any sort of affinity with the non-human? In a few years time will these images seem even more surreal than they seem today. Who knows, our self-absorption may go so far that Robin will have to stop making these images for fear of being arrested for exposing her child to the dangers of something that is not yet dead and safely packaged.