Artist Statement | HERD
Although this series runs the risk of being misinterpreted as a bunch of photographs of farm animals, I can assure you that is not the case. Above all, these photographs are about perception, community, control, and how closely related our human “herd” mentality is to that of our animal friends, if we’re humble enough to see it as such.
The first time I noticed this parallel was during a five day drive from Vancouver to Winnipeg. At about two o'clock in the morning underneath a full moon in the prairies - I drove down one of the southern, less travelled highways and out of the corner of my eye I saw black dots littering the fields around me. Curious, I pulled off to the shoulder to investigate.
Under the greenish illumination of the moon was a herd of cattle slowly walking along the fence line of the field, grazing and going about their business. There were a few bulls, some cows, and several calves. The bulls led the way, with the exception of one of them trailing behind the herd, and the cows tended to the calves. Within the confines of the farmer's field, there was a community - a natural hierarchy of responsibilities. The bulls and cows cautiously stared at me as I walked along the fence line. The calves inched closer to see what I was, until a quick "moo" from the momma brought them back to their place at her side. Every time a coyote howled in the not far distance, the bulls let out a call. Each animal had its place, and I had mine.
I observed silently for 30 minutes before finally taking their photograph.
The second time I saw it, I was in Mexico at one of those all-inclusive resorts. Planes packed with families were loaded onto buses destined for idyllic beaches. There, they would be fed, protected, and free to roam... as long as it was within the confines of the Eden-like compound, protected by 24 hour security, and serviced by staff that were trained to be invisible and stay out of your way. Follow the well labelled paths to the bars and buffets and pools.
I started to look at the world differently. I started looking at what my place in the world was. I wondered which side of the fence I was on? I sought out the invisible controls in my own life and studied them. The subtle influences of social media, the news, my job. I watched my thoughts and how these things influenced my opinion of people, culture, and religion. I watched how these things affected other people as well and I realized how deep these controls were. And all I could think of were those cattle wandering through the field. I wondered if they knew what was in store for them, and if they did, would they push through the fence and make a run for it?
The difference between us and them is that we have a choice. We can choose to see the world as it is, and how different it is from what we see on television or the Internet. We can choose to be respectful and responsible. We have the ability to see the barbed wire fences that guide our thoughts and values. We just have to look harder. We can choose to separate from the herd.
Or maybe it's just a bunch of photographs of farm animals.
Special thanks to Mike Anfield of Studio Five-0 and the Deleeuw Family, Charlotte Ruechel and Don Hladych of Vale Farms, Chris Church of Grassy Gnome Acres, Sugarloaf Ranch, Frolek Ranch, and Neil Hochstein of Alberta Bison Ranch. The participating farms in this series were chosen for their high ethical and organic standards.