There is not much difference between paintings and photographs when it comes to what hits me in the heart. I am not a prolific painter, unless the topic or subject really gets under my skin. It can be a fascination with light in a certain situation, it can be a technically difficult scene or it can simply be a person or animal with an expression I want to capture. There is usually a story that goes with the resulting images. Let me give you some examples.
Meet Jabari. I met him when I was part of the Camera-team of the Philadelphia Zoo. And I had no clue that he was in his last few years. His keepers considered him mature but healthy, in his late twenties. He was a Western Lowlands Gorilla. As a member of the Camera-team we were sometimes allowed in the Zoo a little earlier or later than the general public. I loved those moments because the animals were usually more at ease and I could get a unobstructed view of them, by myself.
Jabari was one of those animals that instantly touched my heart.
The below picture was taken in the morning, when he was taking a sunbath in his exhibit, which was behind a glass wall on one side and out in the open on the other. Glass is never an easy thing to tackle as a photographer, but I had found several ways to work with it without getting distracting reflections. The general atmosphere of my last shots of this beautiful animal was one of sadness.
A bit later I photographed him in his inside exhibit and found myself wondering if something was wrong with him. He was usually very active, playing and jumping, so resting motionless in his hammock seemed different. It alarmed me, but I was also aware that we often ‘humanise’ animals in captivity. The keepers in the Zoo are more adept at reading a situation for what it really was and they did not seem worried.
So I was shocked when I was told, not long after, that he has passed – unexpectedly. Apparently he was suspected to have some mouth pains and the crew decided to check him out. For that, he had to be sedated. And during sedation, he stopped breathing and could not be resuscitated. The gentle giant reached 28 years of age. He died on my birthday, in 2013. My heart shrank a little when I heard about it. This series is very close to my heart and it can still move me to tears.
In the early 2000s I helped my sister with her research for her book about Koniks. Koniks are small, semi-feral horses from Poland that are used in many European countries to maintain the original character of nature reservations. No human meddles with them (see more about them on this page: The filly that lived )
The above pastel artwork is based on a field sketch of a stallion that was cast out of the herd. He had a huge bite-wound on his neck, but artistic licence allowed me to exclude that… From what I could observe during my research, he seemed to be unable to abide by horse-laws when it came to family life. He wanted to breed with all the mares, but of course the lead stallions would chase him off. This initially happens with some mild gestures, but ultimately, if the horse does not comply, fierce fights can break out. This horse had a different look from the others in his area and he seemed haunted, not at ease. A few weeks later the manager of this area told me that he had not survived an attack by some stallions. For some reason this horse looked right into my heart and I just had to create a drawing.