Animalness, animalizing, becoming-animal – these are some of the rarely heard terms of a relatively recent discipline Animal Studies that devised these concepts to research the areas of human-animal relationship, the man-made representations of the animal, and the general question of what it means to be human. The scholars in this field examine animal issues and animal representations using multifarious interdisciplinary methods borrowed from art history, anthropology, biology, history, psychology, museology, philosophy, communication studies, sociology, as well as the mediums of film and photography. Being in use since its discovery as a means of observing and recording animals, photography is an excellent resource in this matter.
English naturalist Charles Darwin based his work The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals written in 1872, which explores the evolutionary origins of human facial expressions and gestures, partly on his notes on children, mentally retarded patients, and primates, but also very importantly, on his peculiar thematic collection of photographs, thus his book is not only a fundamental work of ethology, neurobiology, communication theory, and affective science, but also is considered a milestone in the history of photography, being one of the first scientific publications to include animal photographs.
According to American art historian Svetlana Alpers, the earliest practitioners of photography thought that, unlike painting and other genres of visual art, “the photograph gave Nature the power to reproduce herself directly unaided by man.” In this perception, photography did not only change our previous conceptions of nature but also stimulated the reconsideration of the dominant anthropocentric visual culture. In the posthumanist turn of the present era which questions the artificial distinction of nature and culture and takes place concurrently in today’s philosophical thinking and in the contemporary art discourse, one has to pose the questions whether our technical images of nature should also be considered human-images; and vice versa, if the pictures that humans take of themselves should also be seen as pictures of nature. Where are the boundaries separating these two types of images, the natural and the human? Are there any such boundaries at all? Or have we already entered the era of lingering between these categories?
These problems are of even more relevance regarding one central genre of photography – wildlife photography, as the representation of animals around us has been present in human culture since prehistoric times, and also because nowadays the issue of animals is a fundamental area of experimentation in art dealing with the future. The fifth issue of CAPAZINE, a journal regularly released by the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, and the related exhibition therefore got the title LET’S PET! this year. The focus of the LET’S PET! zine and exhibition, as well as the six-month workshop series from which they were born, was the animal, the different senses of animals and humans, the varied forms and relationships between humans and animals, along with the photographic presentation thereof. During the workshops, participants and lecturers used the tools of diverse disciplines to study these topics ranging from animal-human friendship to the fate of farm animals to the kitteh and doggo pictures blowing up the Internet.
Zsolt Miklósvölgyi & Emese Mucsi
Exhibiting artists: Bezselics-Békési Ildikó, Diósi Máté, Gajewszky Anna, Holló Zsuzsa, Kiss Richárd, Pócsik Andrea, Simon Iringó, Spanyár Judit, Szalay Krisztina, Szász Lilla, Tóth Richárd