Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tim Flach: animal photographer

All images in this post are copyright Tim Flach used under the fair use clause for criticism)

Tim Flach according to a Professional Photographer article is obviously an animal photographer. Many of his images do have animals in them. And they treat animals quite sensitively. He has a few series which he has worked on extensively. Series on animals that are not the first lovable wooly warm-blooded mammals that appear in our minds. Or even the glamorous charismatic mega-fauna, not the predators and nor their fecund prey. His work has been on humble bats, the domesticated horse and dog, pigs and the occasional monkey. (And maybe some mega-fauna as well, sometimes humans.)

He seems to be one of the few nature /animal/wildlife photographers that are willing to talk about their work and the thoughts that precede the images. (Maybe they all do and I haven't looked.) He attempts many things in his ambiguous animal images: to suggest our kinship through the similarities in gesture to alien seeming creatures like bats. He wants to challenge our expectations of reality by placing animals outside their context. He also places a great deal of importance on the visual structure of his images and his photographs are as or more driven by design principles, than they are by their subjects. For this he tends to use exceptionally controlled environments in which he photographs these animals. The other reason for this is perhaps an obsession with detail evident in his shots. Design and detail dominate his visual style.

Which is something I enjoy and something that bothers me. I love carefully constructed images, images with attention to detail, to form, to space, to that delicate balance between what is said and implied, shown and hidden. I think there's even a huge amount of careful thought about the emotional content in his images. All of these are indispensable qualities for a 'great' photograph.

Yet there is something missing, and that je ne sais quoi is in my opinion, a sense of spontaneity. The huge photographic machine of control boxes essentially free animals into a photographer's visual cage. The only spontaneity here is in the reactions of the animals and even those seems postured, contrived. This ends up undermining Flach's desire that we examine the animals in relation to ourselves. We examine his designs, his constructions, with relation to ourselves. The animals are not really in the frame at all. Flach manages to make animals human artifacts. Which I like, sometimes, but leads me to wonder about his credentials as an animal photographer. Is there such a thing as an animal tabletop/studio photographer?

(To be entirely fair, they called him an animal specialist, which could be interpreted differently but since Sara introduced him to me as a animal photographer, I will take as such.)

Another Tim Flach page for flash deprived IIScians.

Other Posts on unusual 'wildlife' photographers: Nick Nichols, Rosamund Purcell

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