Anima: Where The Wild Things Are

The relationship between people and animals, domesticated and wild, is endlessly fascinating. Some we admire from afar with awe, like the cuddly-looking but ferocious polar bear, while others play ball with us on the front yard or beg us incessantly for a bite of our burrito.  Living closely with an animal reveals just how intelligent, emotional, and unabashedly different they are.  Currently, Louis Stern Fine Arts is hosting an exhibition that through a number of critically acclaimed black and white photographs, captures the physical reality of animals with remarkable emotion.Anima:The Photography of Jean Francois Spricigo explores the relationship between animals and nature, but also provokes the viewer to contemplate our place amongst these wonderful creatures.

Belgian-born Spricigo, winner of the 2008 Laureate of the Prix de Photographie de l’Academie des Beaux-Arts, is one of the art world’s most eloquently outspoken animal advocates.  His admiration and respect for his subjects is evident in his photography.  Many popular animal photographers subject the animal to human confines a la Hallmark (kittens in picnic baskets), but Spricigo’s photographs capture more candid and intimate moments.  It’s easy to forget that he and his camera were present—his photographs evoke such an untouched solitude.

The first images that I experienced on entering the gallery were a combination of animals and natural objects, displayed in a double-triptych form.  This series of six images, some of abstract landscapes, others of animals in motion, immediately set the stage for the exhibition’s narrative. Two ducks swim along their way, utterly oblivious to the camera, while the sweet and vulnerable eyes of a dog stare right at the viewer, beckoning compassion and understanding.  In another photograph, a single dog almost lost in a blanket of night sky, offset by blurred city lights in the distance, serves as a harsh reminder of the divide that separates the manufactured human world from the visceral animal world.

The cats, dogs, birds, leopards, horses and cows represented in Spricigo’s work are captured as if caught off guard.  Spricigo’s photographs reveal a deep, soulful quality in his otherwise “common” subjects.  One piece captures the hearty laugh of a bah-ing billy goat with such depth that you feel as if you’re in on the joke.  Other heartwarming images include a fluffy, tiny, inquisitive square-shaped bird, and a playful, rambunctious dog, equipped with a stick and ready for the chase.  These images call to mind feelings of companionship, and at times lend a “family portrait”-like quality to the exhibition.

The interesting thing about Spricigo’s approach to his subject matter is that while his photography does call to mind the connection we have for animals, it also exposes them in moments of isolation and reflection.  Many of his photographs resemble impressionistic paintings in that they are mildly surrealist, blurred, and depict the animals in their natural, daily, and often private activities.  The third room of the exhibition houses the greatest number of these photographs, where Spricigo’s skill is just as impressive as his subject matter.  A lone horse at pasture is practically absorbed into the mist—something Spricigo depicts as hundreds of softly focused dots, while across the room, a sharply focused shot of a bird’s feet on a fence seamlessly coexists.  It is this diversity and range, not only in the photographs of Anima but also in the natural world, that make the psychological complexity of animals so enthralling.

-by Brittany Krasner

After a two month run at the Palais de l’Institute de France, Anima: The Photography of Jean Francois Spricigo has made quite a splash at its American debut in West Hollywood and is on view at Louis Stern Fine Arts through February 13. For more information, please call (310) 276-0147 or click here.

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