During my stay at the Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva, Florida in 2015, I was struck by the abundance of natural beauty; not the expected colorful and verdant landscape in that part of South Florida, but the rich brown hues in the flora and fauna of the preserve in which I resided. Despite frequent rains and high humidity, which aids in the growth of lush vegetation, the weather of the island of Captiva is quite punishing. The high heat, often strong winds and the harsh relentless sun that seems to permeate the smallest of crevices, all work toward rapid aging of everything in its path. It was this particular beauty that inspired the traditional still lifes for this project. I find poetry in the moments where youth is clearly absent, where the elements have frayed and the color is spotted with subtle shades of brown, a sign of resolute fruition.
Everywhere there were reminders that life is constantly moving forward without regard to creation or its demise. Evidence was found in a dried palm that seems to lean to a direction in sad decay, a large seashell ravaged by time looking more like bone than shell, the insect stopped dead in it's tracks by the overwhelming heat or lack of hydration; the impermanence reflecting the beauty of all that nature will endure.
I came to know about the chickens through my uncle, a lifelong hobbyist. I was struck by the variety of shapes and colors of the birds, but I was moved by the individual personalities. My intent in photographing these birds was to create a portrait. I have great respect for their profound history, the utilitarian aspect of their physiology, and the care and passion that goes into the breeding of each variety.
At poultry shows all over the world, known as The Fancy, chickens of all shapes, colors and sizes await their judgment. There is an existing framework, a culture really, that aims to perfect these birds by breeding them based on a book entitled, The Standard of Perfection. These birds are something to behold, and few outside of The Fancy even know of their existence. Each breeder has spent years creating a work of art, where genetics is key. And each bird IS a work of art; from the amount of toes on each foot to the width of the wingspan, from the precise color to the exact weight. Judges carefully inspect every detail. But there is also something else: Personality. Chickens can be haughty, angry, affectionate, shy, charming, sedate, or even funny. In this project, not only do I introduce these regal birds, bred to a standard that most will never match, but I also attempting to capture the individuality of each bird. Just like people, chickens are unique. Take a look into the eyes of these birds and judge for yourselves.
My chicken portraits were the subject of two books: The Fairest Fowl, 2001, The Magnificent Chicken, 2013, both through Chronicle Books. This work has been featured on NPR’s This American Life, CNN, The New York Times and and in other media worldwide.
Part II of my chicken adventures. National Geographic ran a story about these beauties.
Side Effects May Include is a photography-based installation, a "pill" bedroom that explores the disconnection between mental health challenges and medication; more specifically poly-pharmacy. Born out of grief, this project was inspired by my sister who took her life with a cocktail of pharmaceuticals after suffering with bi-polar disorder for many years. Following her death, I collected the contents of her medicine cabinet. The pills in this project belonged to her. I wondered if the medications were responsible for her demise and this concern led me in a photographic exploration that ended with experiential artwork in the mind-set of activist.
These images are from various shows including:
The Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, California
FAVA Gallery, Oberlin, Ohio
Davis Orton Gallery, Hudson, NY
Blue Sky Gallery, Portland Oregon