A piece from my new series, EDEN has been included in the "Rite of Passage - Creating a profound conversation between environmental art and personal spirituality" exhibition at the Gallery of the ICCNC (upper level), 1433 Madison Street, Oakland CA 94612 from February 20 to March 20, 2016.  The gallery is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays 12-5 PM.

A piece from my new series, EDEN will be included in the "Smaller Footprints" exhibition at the Museum of Art and History, 665 West Lancaster Boulevard, Lancaster, CA 93534 from January 28 - March 27, 2016.  The opening reception is scheduled for Saturday, January 30, 6-8PM.

My article, "Feminism and Animal Agriculture" regarding my current project, CENSORED LANDSCAPES (formerly TESTAMENT) has been published in the current issue of the WEAD magazine here.

Two pieces from my series, FAST FOOD will be included in the "Nourish: Food as Sustenance and Pleasure" juried Joyce Elaine Grant Exhibition at the Texas Woman's University Fine Art Galleries, 1200 Frame Street, Denton, TX 76209 from February 11 - March 20, 2016.  The opening reception is scheduled for February 16, 2016 from 5:30-8:00 PM.

Apropos of the current Paul Graham exhibition at Pier 24: good photography shows what the photographer saw; the best photography inspires a way of seeing.

In the Fall 2015 issue of Exposure magazine, Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of photography at the Cleveland Museum of Art reviewed an exhibition I was invited to participate in, Off the Web, On The Wall 2: An SPE Member Show.  She writes the following about photographs from my series FAST FOOD:

"Isabella La Rocca's attitude in the FAST FOOD series is critical and ironic.  The California artist makes the plastic sheen and the vivid colors of the facades of fast food restaurants appear both seductive and disturbingly cacophonous.  The visual overload is perhaps meant to echo her personal distress with that industry's social, environmental, economic, and public health implications."

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."  ~ Carl G. Jung

Photographing Feedlots

Feedlot 116 Degrees Farenheit  from the series CENSORED LANDSCAPES

Feedlot 116 Degrees Farenheit from the series CENSORED LANDSCAPES

That day, the temperature hit 116 degrees Farenheit.  In the evening we arrived at a restaurant just minutes before closing.  Nevertheless, the waiter welcomed us.  He was tall, muscular, friendly, and flirty.  He brought us an extra treat: tofu kebabs that had been marinated in a savory sauce.  They were delicious. 

Then he announced that he was not vegan, he would never be vegan, he loves bacon.

I asked if it didn’t bother him, about the pigs.

And he said, “No, of course not.  Animals don’t have feelings.” 

We exclaimed that animals do have feelings. I would have said that we are all animals, that humans are animals, but he didn’t give me a chance.  

He insisted that animals don’t have feelings.  

We asked, “What about dogs?  Do you have a dog?” 

He said that maybe dogs might have feelings.  He said that the animals, they don’t know they’re going to die so it’s OK to kill them.  Maybe they’re scared but it’s not because they’re scared of death, they’re just scared.

I pointed out that fear is a feeling.

He agreed that fear is a feeling.  But he repeated that he would never stop eating animals.  That eating animals is the reason for his handsome body.

We didn’t pursue the conversation much further.  I didn’t want to waste more time in a tiresome discussion.  I just wanted to enjoy dinner with my dear friend.

After dinner, we spent the night at a golf resort nearby almost for free with points I’d racked up on my credit card.  It is luxurious in the way that’s popular among the not quite ultra-rich.  The lawns are perfectly manicured.  In this the fourth year of the California drought, the grass is watered daily. There are duck ponds, and four swimming pools. It was a freaky contrast to the acres of excrement-covered dirt on which cattle stand, or lie on, all day and night, day after day, the ammonia fumes searing their eyes, nostrils, mouths, and tongues, with no real shade, only water from a dirty concrete tub to drink, no respite until the dark night from that hell of over 100 degrees Farenheit.

The technical name for the places I photographed is CAFO - Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.  99% of meat, dairy, and eggs comes from CAFOs.  CAFOs known as feedlots confine cattle by the thousands for the beef or dairy industries.  The animals are young, most likely less than a year old. They are fed an unnatural grain diet to fatten them as quickly as possible, which causes gastric distress.  They have been branded, dehorned, and/or castrated with no anesthetic.

Comparisons have been made to the Nazi Camps.  Isaac Basevich Singer said, “For the animals, life is an eternal Treblinka.”  Some people jokingly call these places “Cowschwitz.” Of course, these comparisons only go so far.  Every oppression has a history and quality all its own.  Alex Hershaft, Holocaust survivor and founder of Farm Animal Rights Movement, has been quoted as saying, “I am not equating the Holocaust with the millions of animals slaughtered every week for U.S. dinner tables, for we differ in many ways.  Yet, we all share a love of life and our ability to experience many emotions, including affection, joy, sadness and fear.”

I know that in that resort hotel there were people who were suffering, who were at odds with their spouses, maybe on the verge of divorce or going through a divorce, maybe frustrated with their jobs or careers, perhaps they had children who have drug problems or parents who are sick or dying. The ways in which humans suffer are endless.  And I knew that suffering cannot be quantified and that it can’t be compared.  And yet, I know that no one in that hotel would ever trade places with any one of those animals we had seen and wept for that day.  But that any of those animals would give anything to spend just a short time suffering in that luxury resort.

111 Degrees Farenheit  from the series CENSORED LANDSCAPES

111 Degrees Farenheit from the series CENSORED LANDSCAPES


My current project, CENSORED LANDSCAPES (formerly TESTAMENT) includes photographs of non-human animals. I use the word “portraits” to describe these photographs but it seems a poor term.

In the 1994 book Animals, A. D. Coleman writes, “A likeness is any image that resembles a person.  A portrait is a picture that suggests something about that particular individual’s personality.  Animals have identities, habits, moods, emotions, and expressions just as humans do, and photographers often find ways of revealing those characteristics.”

I don’t disagree with the statement as far as it goes, but it leaves out so much. Portraiture depends on a tacit agreement based on a set of conventions that have evolved over thousands of years, the understanding of which is limited to the human species. 

The ways non-human animals recognize themselves or others have nothing to do with silver gelatin, ink, or dye on a flat substrate – or with an array of tiny dots of colored lights emitted from a flat screen.  Our meager representations mean nothing to animals, do not even begin to suggest the richness and breadth of their perceptions, the smell and the light and the presence in all dimensions that characterizes an individual.

Humans, on the other hand, seem to confuse a flat abstraction with the thing itself.  People point to their phone screens and say things like, “that’s my mom” or “this is me and my boyfriend in Costa Rica” or “here’s my cat.” Studies that attempt to prove that animals recognize humans from flat images claim to test animal intelligence - somehow we have decided that our reductionism is a sign of intelligence.

Magritte pointed out the absurdity of this in his painting, La trahison des images. 

 

C’eci n’est pas une pipe – French for “This is not a pipe”  - the thing we identify as a pipe is not a pipe at all, it is oily pigment that has dried on a sheet made of canvas.

Coleman’s anthropocentric definition also leaves out another element of portraiture: complicity between the subject and the photographer. The sitter gives the photographer permission to interpret her identity for other humans.  A portrait is meant to memorialize the sitter.  If the photographer is an artist or is famous, the portrait becomes part of an oeuvre.

But when I am photographing them, my subjects are not interested in my memorializing or my interpretations, much less my oeuvre.  They are much more concerned with my movements, my presence, my being.

Photographing animals is essential to my project but at first I was resistant.  Animals in photographs are most often just compositional elements, ways of modulating the light or of enhancing the image of humans.  Animals are seen as entertaining, humorous, or as aestheticized objects, consumer goods, inferior and alien beings, almost always colored by the entrenched speciesism of our society. Why would my images of animals be seen differently?  But so much passes between my subjects and me: trust, understanding, connection, affection, love.  I’ve come to delight in the process.

An exhibition I was invited to participate in at the Society for Photographic Education headquarters in Cleveland, OH entitled "Off the Web, On the Wall 2" has been documented in a video that can be viewed here .

"I found that there was something profound about the idea that you could release your thoughts in some permanent way... What happens inside your mind can happen inside a camera." ~ Arno Rafael Minkkinen

I have been thinking about the connections between photography and the Italian Christian folkloric legend, La Befana (derived from the Italian epifania) celebrated each year on January 6.  La Befana has similarities to Santa Claus in that she brings presents for children, and similarities with the Halloween witch, in that she is an old woman wearing a tall hat or a scarf who flies through the night on a broomstick, sometimes with a cat, silhouetted against the moon.  Legend has it that after the birth of Christ, the Three Kings stopped at La Befana's home and asked her to join them in their search for the baby Jesus.  She declined because she had too much housework to do.  Later, she regretted it and set out to find the baby Jesus and bring him gifts.  Angels from the star of Bethlehem gave flight to her on her broom.  But to this day La Befana continues her search for the baby Jesus and brings all the good children presents on her way. 

How is La Befana related to photography?  Bear with me, there are connections.

Much has been written about the meditative process of photography.  Photography requires being mindful, letting go of the past and the future, transcending the materials, and "becoming one" with what is seen through the lens.  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi wrote about this state in his book, "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience." Minor White comes to mind.  

I've often wondered why La Befana was, in effect, punished - she never found the baby Jesus - especially when the Three Kings were rewarded in their search.  I think maybe, like many myths, La Befana has a lesson to teach.  Women have traditionally been tasked with attending to the past and the future, witness the housecleaners and administrative assistants, the majority of whom are women, who clean up the detritus of the past and schedule the future. The work that is considered important, that is chronicled in history, that is regarded as feats of presence and flow, is credited mostly to men.  Women continue to be in the minority in the fields of art and photography.  No doubt, it will require societal changes to equalize this (reproductive rights, availability of education and child care, equal pay for equal work, etc.).  Changes within the family and the individual can be just as difficult; if we are barely conscious of them, gender roles remain entrenched.  In many parts of society, being conscious of gender roles is perceived of as evil, or at least distasteful.

Often, when I am overwhelmed with work it seems that my priority should be to clean up the mess and make a plan.  The story of La Befana suggests otherwise.

 

 

 

  

From Episode 1 Season 1 of cable TV series You're the Worst

Gretchen: Nestor is a great photographer. We need him.
Sam: Anyone's a good photographer now. Shitstain take amazing Instagrams.
Shitstain: No filter.
Honey Nutz: Yeah! @Shitstain! 

"All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth."Richard Avedon

Bills that have already become law in Utah, Iowa, Missouri, and Idaho make it a crime to photograph animals on factory farms, and more states are considering them. These laws are spreading globally; the agriculture industry in Australia is modeling its "ag-gag" laws after those in the U.S. Investigative journalist, Will Potter, needs funding to legally photograph factory farms using drone photography.  Please contribute whatever you can!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1926278254/drone-on-the-farm-an-aerial-expose

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted Amazon.com a patent for taking photographs against a white background.

Read more here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/amazon/10820216/Amazon-patents-taking-photos-against-white-backgrounds.html

I'm honored to have been awarded a grant from the Culture and Animals Foundation for my series TESTAMENT.

A piece from my series Farm Worker Homes  will be included in the Juried Exhibition, "Home," organized by 4 X 5 Gallery in conjunction with Dickerman Prints, 1141 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94103, from March 22 through April 10, 2014  with an opening reception on March 19th from 6:30-8pm.