"Animaleries" are French pet stores. In these seemingly unlikely settings, American photographer Jayne Hinds Bidaut found the subjects for a compelling new body of work. In her words, "I watched the horrors and dramas of [the animals], of their lives within a container." Her meditative, sometimes haunting photographs of "everybody in their prison" are at once beautiful works of art and powerful statements about the human ignorance and cruelty that causes us to treat animals as commodities. Bidaut's images of cats and dogs, lizards and snakes, birds, fish, and mice evoke in the viewer an amazing range of emotions, from wonder at the innocence of these small lives to anxiety and foreboding at their caged condition. They draw us into the unsuspected "horrors and dramas" of the familiar pet shop and, like all real art, compel us to experience the depths and ambiguities beneath the surface of everyday life.
This volume presents some fifty photographs from Jayne Hinds Bidaut's "Animaleries" series. Accompanying the images is an essay by John Wood, who provides a critical appreciation of Bidaut's work. He establishes her connections to nineteenth-century photographers and naturalists, with whose work she shares affinities of both technique and subject matter. Wood describes why Bidaut chose to work in tintype and stereograph for her beautiful portraits of insects and Victorian-inspired nude studies. And he probes the nexus between art and political statement that gives the images in Animaleries both poetry and potency.
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I once carried with me for about two days a newly born mouse that I had stumbled upon ... I kept him nestled in my bra, taking him out every two hours, filling his translucent tummy white with a single drop of goat's milk ... helping him poop, then gently washing his delicate little bottom.
I was caught in this most desperate place ... me, clinging onto his life ... every yawn, every stretch ... a very special, a very unstable place.
When he was gone, I found that in an instant, I was out of that place ... he was no longer that beautiful little baby whose every gesture made me smile deep inside. Just like that, he was a pink blob of bubble gum.
During the three years of shooting Animalerie, I was in that same desperate place. I purposefully sought out small pet shops all over the United States and Europe ... actually drawn by them. To enter ... was for me ... this same fleeting glance ... this same chance to connect to something very special yet wrong. There, over and over, side by side, I was shown the boiled down rue of life ... adorned with complete neuroses repeated to a perfection ... That ... or just a numbed dormant death.
I chose not to show the endless forgotten bloated dead bodies ... the sick left dying ... The frightened-eyed fish sucked next to and stuck on the tank's water filtration system, its body overlapping another already lifeless tank mate ... The frenzy when baby mice were picked from their warm soft nest and dropped in the adjacent tank of a hungry snake, or carnivorous lizard ... The awkward stretching and silent searching of the blind pink newborn's body, the reptile's forked red tongue sent into a wild flicking frenzy, lapping up molecules of fresh live scent ... Or the frantic searching mother, and sometimes father, of the pinkies and fuzzies, forever in a state of confusion over their continuously, mysteriously, disappearing pups ... Not those endless never-changing stories.
At first, the photographs were all made to include bits of visual information showing their containers ... Then one day I found, with the exact intensity with which I looked, I was being looked at. Locked in this meeting, I then began to see. I was taken and shown a very special place, a world in between worlds, but a place that remains, just the same. This was a place where living, breathing, looking objects—inventory, toys, titillations, obsessions, birthday gifts, and specimens ... blobs of bubble gum—managed to live, undaunted, and go about some form of life's daily rituals ... altered and unnatural, yet still possessing all its passion ... filled with beauty, heightened by grace ... sublime in their fleeting existence. There, I found beautiful treasures, not disposable trifles.
Jayne Hinds Bidaut, of New York City, is a native Texan whose travels have taken her to France, Greece, Holland, Italy, and North Africa. Her photography has been shown by numerous galleries and museums and is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Los Angeles County Museum, among others. Her previous book is Jayne Hinds Bidaut: Tintypes. John Wood, a prize-winning poet and photographic historian, is the editor of 21st: The Journal of Contemporary Photography.