"I am a photographer, not a naturalist. My teachers were legendary artists Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, and Minor White. What they taught me was the value of traditional artistic concerns, such as good composition, interesting light, and compelling subject matter.
Animalia was made between 1995-2001. When I started this series, I was a bit insecure. So many great (and not so great) artists had tackled such subjects since the beginning of time. How could I add to this daunting history.
One thing I did not want to do was simply document my animals, so I chose not to shoot in colour and not to show their environment. Rather, I choose to look closely and abstractly—to see my subjects for their inherent beauty, oddness, mystery. For this, I shot often with macro lenses, so I could get close, and worked with grainy, black-and-white films, printed in sepia, hoping to give them an old school, timeless feel.
I worked in zoos and aquariums, not in the wild or underwater. This meant I could almost always find my subjects and I could isolate and freeze them in a constrained space, almost as though they were models, posing for me in a studio.
Photographing animals is very different from photographing people. You can’t tell an elephant where to stand, and you can´t ask a skate to smile or a lizard to say “cheese.” Instead, you must be very patient and wait, hoping your subject will do what you want it to do, or maybe something else unexpected that might make a good picture. When animals do cooperate, you have to be ready, because most won’t stay in one position long. You have only a few seconds, and often less, to get your shot.
In some ways animals do resemble humans, no doubt. After all, they are our forebearers. Still, I believe animals are their very own creatures, with unique, often surprising and altogether amazing characteristics. And that’s what I’ve tried to capture in these pictures."
Henry Horenstein has been a professional photographer, teacher, and author since the 1970s. He studied history at the University of Chicago and earned his BFA and MFA at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he is now Professor of Photography. His work is collected and exhibited internationally and he has published over 30 books, including Black & White Photography: A Basic Manual and Digital Photography: A Basic Manual, used by hundreds of thousands of college, university, high-school, and art school students as their introduction to photography. He has also published several monographs of his own work, including Shoot What You Love, Histories: Tales from the 70s, Show, Honky Tonk, Animalia, Humans, Racing Days, Close Relations, and many others. Henry lives in Boston.