“Goats and sheep have served us from the earliest of times. They have walked the world with us. By paying attention, we honor the musings of the sheep and the jests of the goats. And so these pictures make a kind of meditation on our earthly brother- and sisterhood. When we draw a sharp line dividing humans from the rest of life, we make the world a smaller place — for ourselves. Why on earth would we want to do that?” – Kevin Horan
When American photographer Kevin Horan moved from the city of Chicago to rural Whidbey Island in the state of Washington, he discovered among the local residents a flock of goats and sheep, who greeted him each day in front of his house as friendly neighbors do. The chorus of sounds they made suggested they were not just herd animals, but perhaps individuals as well. He writes: “Their voices were all so different – sopranos and baritones, shouts and murmurs, rebukes and pleas – that I thought of them as not just a flock but a tight-knit group of individuals.”
Experienced in portraiture, Horan decided to photograph his new neighbors in his studio, as though they were privileged clients just like aristocratic country gentlemen and ladies. For practical reasons, he brought the studio to them on the farms where they lived. When it was time to take the picture after setting up the lighting and backdrop, Horan did not pose his subjects. Instead, he waited and watched until the moment the animal revealed itself to him in all of his or her glory. His exquisite resulting images are published in Goats and Sheep. A Portrait Farm (5 Continents Editions, March 2019).
Horan’s portraits of regal Isabella, goofball Stanwood, imperious Sherlock, and “excuse me” Jake, among other agreeable sitters, invite us to notice the variety, dignity, and personalities of these lowly farm creatures, who speak to us through the camera in a profile, a sideward glance, or a direct gaze. With different gestures, faces, and expressions, they are funny, fascinating, intelligent, curious, engaging “others” who command our undivided attention and respect. They remind us that we are all fellow creatures – and the camera isn’t always on us.
In his essay in the book, Horan references art critic John Berger’s observation that animals do indeed have qualities we use to describe people. Sadly, those relationships that animals and people enjoyed for millennia have largely gone by the wayside in the modern world as humans turn animals into machines and then into products. The result is that both animals and humans lose. Horan writes: “Today we are so nostalgic for that completeness with the living world that we are drawn to zoos to stare. We gather pets into our households to soothe the sudden loneliness of our species.”
The book features an essay by the writer Elena Passarello in which she asks us to imagine the evolution of the flora and fauna of our earth after it was smashed to pieces by an asteroid sixty-six million years ago. Regarding the animals pictured in this book and their appeal to humans, she writes: “Sheep and goats are perhaps the first species that you willfully domesticate, as the omnipresent wolf-cum-dogs just started crashing your parties thousands of years beforehand. But from the moment you reconnect onward, in the eleven thousand years that roll toward our present day, you and sheep and goats remain utterly inseparable.”
GOATS AND SHEEP. A Portrait Farm
PHOTOGRAPHS BY KEVIN HORAN
With an Essay by Elena Passarello
5 Continents Editions
9 inches x 12 ½ inches; 112pp., 49 duotone photos
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