In the Shadows of Wolves and Man

Christian Houge

 

By David Gonzalez, New York Times, LENS, Jan. 16, 2013

“They say you don’t start living until you step out of your comfort zone,” the photographer Christian Houge said. “Art arises when you let go. It can be in the process, in the darkroom. But it can also be in the concept. The end product is about not having control.”

As if he needs a reminder: he photographs wolves.

His images – deep-toned close-ups sometimes printed on cowhide – have a visceral impact, showing piercing eyes, bristly fur, hunched shoulders and bared teeth. But the series Shadow Within is as much about humans as it is about wolves. Mr. Houge, who is based in Oslo, wants us to reconsider the impulses, fears and instincts we keep in check as man allows his own nature to be boxed in by nurture. It is a theme that runs through his other projects, from a nude portrait series to another on a distant, frozen island that houses the Global Seed Vault.

“I like exploring what culture does to us,” he said. “I see nature and culture being juxtaposed both within and without us. We are born as something much larger than ourselves. Then you have culture coming in with boxes, with identities, teachers, religion. Before all that, we are nature and we still have all this nature inside us. Well, some more than others.”

That’s where the wolf comes in. Growing up in Norway, Mr. Houge was well aware of the Norse legends and Viking lore in which wolves played a central role, as they did in other cultures. Then there are the fables and fairy tales – ostensibly for children — in which the Big Bad Wolf was always the dark, malevolent force. And as much as the wolf may be wise, it was also feared.

Perhaps too much.

In modern Scandinavia, he said, there has been a debate on how to deal with recent incidents in which wolves had been spotted on the outskirts of Oslo or how packs have killed sheep that ranged free on farmland.

All that played into his decision to turn his lens on the lupine. During the course of his research, Mr. Houge met a woman who studied wolves, and she invited him to a nature preserve. But before he could embark on his project, he had to take a safety course.

“Things can happen if you don’t understand their language,” he said. “Things can go very wrong.”

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Christian Houge

He had to learn to let go.

“You have to face your fear,” he said. “They are in your face, and they have their tongue in your mouth, if they choose to come and greet you. This is how they get food from their parents when they are young. It is a sense of security, but it is their way of showing they’re in charge.”

In his various shoots, Mr. Houge has found the animals to have distinct personalities: from bullying and aggressive to loving and curious. They have tested him, too, pushed him down to the ground or huddled up close.

“The preconception of being a human in nature really shifts after an experience like that,” he said.

And that’s his goal: to get viewers to recognize in themselves what the wolves show openly, whether how they set boundaries or use nature.

“Humans can learn a lot from wolves,” Mr. Houge said. “The debate in Norway about if we should get rid of this animal is astounding. It says something larger about how brutal we are with nature. It’s mostly about how to make money.”

The idea of the lone wolf — the iconoclast who follows his own rules — may be admired in some cultures, but it’s a hard job in nature. Mr. Houge has seen how wolves that did not learn their place in the pack’s hierarchy trail behind the pack for months seeking to be let back in.

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Christian Houge

“I feel one of man’s deepest wishes is to be part of something larger,” he said. “Hierarchies are strong in humans, even if we don’t talk about it. In humans we have social, cultural, fashion hierarchies. I hope some of this series inspires people to feel some of this, how they are part of whatever pack.”

Even one of the more often-cited traits admired in some circles loses its luster after a conversation with Mr. Houge. Corporate titans — or photographers — want to see themselves as the alpha male, a concept Mr. Houge dismisses.

“The wolf pack that has longevity is a family,” he said. “It is a pair, not one male, but a male and a female. If they are secure enough in themselves, they let the weak individual lead the pack. If one has a fantastic nose, even if it is weaker, they’ll let it run first to lead the pack to the kill. These weaker individuals feel part of something larger — it’s ‘We need you for the pack to be stronger.’ That’s a perfect example of how business should be led. Including people, not excluding. Without me, this would not be as strong.”

More images at:

New York Times article: http://nyti.ms/1sD9AUr

Christian Houge website: http://www.christianhouge.no/Shadow-Within

Women Unveiled: Marc Garanger’s Contested Portraits of 1960’s Algeria

A 1960 photograph of an Algerian woman in a French regroupment village. Click image to view original article and more images.

I can’t recall how I stumbled on these images on the web, but I’m glad I did. I find them haunting. I have been on a Vietnam War reading streak lately (more in a future post), and couldn’t help think of these women in that context.

In the Time Magazine online article about Marc Granger’s images, photo historian and poet Carole Naggar wrote:

“For France, the trauma of the Algerian War (1954-1962) was not unlike the experience of the Vietnam War for the United States. But, unlike the conflict in Vietnam, few photographic documents exist from that period in Algeria: it is as if the French responded with collective amnesia. Marc Garanger’s Algerian Women is one of the few photographic essays dedicated to that painful period.

“In 1960, Garanger, a 25-year-old draftee who had already been photographing professionally for ten years, landed in Kabylia, in the small village of Ain Terzine, about seventy-five miles south of Algiers. Like many politically engaged young men, he had put off his departure for the army as long as possible, hoping that the war would end without him. He was soon selected as his regiment’s photographer.

“General Maurice Challes, head of the French army, attacked the mountain villages occupied by two million people, some of whom had joined the Algerian resistance, the FLN. To deprive the rebels of their contacts with the villagers, he decided to destroy the villages and transfer the population into regroupment villages, a euphemism for concentration camps. Soon Garanger’s commanding officer decreed that the villagers must have identity cards: ‘Naturally he asked the military photographer to make these cards,‘ Garanger recalls. ‘Either I refused and went to prison, or I accepted. I understood my luck: it was to be a witness, to make pictures of what I saw that mirrored my opposition to the war. I saw that I could use what I was forced to do, and have the pictures tell the opposite of what the authorities wanted them to tell.

“The women Garanger portrayed came from neighboring villages. Either Berber or Muslim, they had never before come into contact with Europeans. When Garanger arrived, there was a detachment of armed men with machine guns across their shoulders, an interpreter, and the commander. The women would be lined up, then each in turn would sit on a stool outdoors, in front of the whitewashed wall of a house. Without their veils, their disheveled hair and their protective tattoos were exposed. Their lined faces reflected the harshness of their life. The stiffness of their pose and the intensity of their gaze evoke early daguerreotypes.

“’I would come within three feet of them,” Garanger remembers. ‘They would be unveiled. In a period of ten days, I made two thousand portraits, two hundred a day. The women had no choice in the matter. Their only way of protesting was through their look.’

‘It is this immediate look that matters,’ Garanger continues. ‘When one discharges a condenser, a spark comes out: to me, photography involves seizing just that instant of discharge. In these sessions, I felt a completely crazy emotion. It was an overwhelming experience, with lightning in each image. I held up for the world a mirror, which reflected this lightning look that the women cast at me.’

“In the Middle East, the veil is like a second skin among traditional people. It may be taken off only within the secrecy of the walls, among women or between husband and wife, but never publicly. Garanger’s portraits symbolize the collision of two civilizations, Islamic and Western, and serve as an apt metaphor for colonization. The women’s defiant look may be thought of as an ‘evil eye’ they cast to protect themselves and curse their enemies.

“Fifty years after Algeria’s independence was proclaimed, Garanger’s contested portraits have not lost their strength. When he went back to Algeria in 2004 to meet those he had photographed, he found that the pictures he had taken were often the only ones that the women ever had of themselves, and they welcomed his return: he had become the keeper of their memory.”


Garanger’s portraits were exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne, Algiers, April 20 – August 30, 2013

Carole Naggar is a photo historian and poet. She recently wrote for Time LightBox on s images of children in Europe after World War II and the visual fables of Pentti Sammallahti
See More Images: Women Unveiled: Marc Garanger’s Contested Portraits of 1960s Algeria

Utah Book Festival

Craig  Childs, Greer Chesher, Jim Aton


Date:         Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Time:         4:00 PM
Location:  Charles Hunter Room, Hunter Conference Center,
                  Southern Utah University

Authors Greer Chesher, Craig Childs, and Jim Aton participate in a panel on western landscape as part of SUU’s symposium “The Art of Literature: A Celebration of Authors, Books, and Place.”

And it appears we all need new author’s photos.

The Never-Ending Story

Kate Starling (See more at http://www.kstarling.com)

The following was published in The Joy of Rockville, a cookbook created to celebrate Rockville’s Sesquicentennial (150 years) in 2012:

Kate Starlings’ fabulous cover painting is, to me, the essence of Rockville. Living in our small town may not always be the easy, temperate, and peaceful life Kate’s image evokes, but Rockville can be that, and more. No matter what may be happening, I’m always glad to waken under Rockville’s azure skies and redrock embrace. In this year of little rain, I’m even happier to see rare skies, the color of a kingfisher’s wing, bringing a “three-inch rain.” When the cloud fleet sails the sky, I know it’s July; when burnt umber cottonwoods crisp the day, and that rare sunset glow lingers on cliffs, I know I’m home. I imagine, though we rarely read it in histories, Rockville’s early settlers felt the same. Hearing the Virgin River rush over rock; wading stone irrigation ditches on a scorching afternoon; eating ripe mulberries full of purple; soaking in star-glow on a dark summer’s night, meant the same to pioneer and current neighbor alike: home.

Rockville changed over its first 150 years, as, thankfully, it has remained the same. Kate’s artwork could have been painted in 1862 or 2012. The canyon’s cliffs remain, and they transform. The Virgin brings nurture and devastation. Some of us are old timers, tracing family lines back to our town’s founding; some are what our much-missed Fern Crawford called “middle timers”; some are just discovering Rockville’s special wonder. But no matter our origin, all of us—long past or newly arrived—write another line in the ongoing story that is Rockville.

The Virgin Anasazi, Southern Paiute, and those even more distant, told stories of our shared home we will never hear. Sooner than we know, the future’s unnamed will come seeking a home and story of which we can only dream. May they find the community, beauty, and abundance all those before them found in this green and lovely place called Rockville.

Greer K. Chesher

June 2012

Rockville, Utah