What Are These Animals Doing Here?

The Photo Blog
Jan. 31 2013 11:00 AM

What Are These Animals Doing Here?

Simen Johan
Untitled #152, 2008.

Simen Johan/Yossi Milo Gallery, NYC.

In his project, “Until the Kingdom Comes,” Simen Johan creates and photographs animals living in harsh, confused, and climate-disrupted landscapes. His work, on display through Feb. 17 at David Winton Bell Gallery, in Providence, R.I., is a magnificent display of these shifting environments.*

Johan’s skill lies in creating images of a perhaps-not-so-mythical future world where creatures are depicted in the wrong environment, and beasts that shouldn’t coexist do just that. These tremendous images certainly have a footing in the tradition of naturalists such as John James Audubon. Johan’s work, which has contemporary counterparts in artists like Walton Ford, presents an alternative to the traditional view of the natural world in which the influence of humanity’s excesses is sensed, if not immediately seen.

Simen Johan
Untitled #169, 2011, and Untitled #155, 2010.

Simen Johan/Yossi Milo Gallery, NYC.

Simen Johan
Untitled #168, 2011.

Simen Johan/Yossi Milo Gallery, NYC.

Johan, who began his continuing project in 2006, explained his process via email. He crafts his fantastical images mostly by photographing “animals that live in zoos, on farms, or on nature preserves,” but he occasionally relies on creatures that have been taxidermied in museum dioramas or found as road kill. “I then situate them in settings that I have photographed elsewhere.” He prefers photographing live animals and says, “When you create images as large as I do, up to 10 feet, you're limited to what you can do digitally. Taxidermy looks dead and if you tweak too much, you'll end up with Michael Jackson.”

Simen Johan
Untitled #159, 2010.

Simen Johan/Yossi Milo Gallery, NYC.

Simen Johan
Untitled #133, 2005.

Simen Johan/Yossi Milo Gallery, NYC.

Advertisement

Talking about his project, Johan writes, “When working on an image, I strive to create tension and confuse the boundaries between opposing forces, such as the familiar and the otherworldly, the natural and the artificial, the amusing and the eerie. I often feel like I am attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable as I explore the paradoxical nature of existence, its simultaneous abundance of beauty and horror. For example, in one of my photographs, two moose in combat are set upon by a flock of tropical parakeets behaving at once ravenous and playful. The overlapping ecosystems—northern moose, tropical birds, and signs of human civilization in the desert valley below—evoke a world where human intervention has caused ecological disarray.” The result is work that is both imaginative, thought-provoking, and more than a little foreboding about what our world could look like someday.

All photographs © Simen Johan and courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York City.

Simen Johan
Untitled #137, 2006, and Untitled #163, 2011.

Simen Johan/Yossi Milo Gallery, NYC.

Simen Johan
Untitled #156, 2009.

Simen Johan/Yossi Milo Gallery, NYC.

Simen Johan
Untitled #154, 2008.

Simen Johan/Yossi Milo Gallery, NYC.

Simen Johan
Untitled #153, 2008.

Simen Johan/Yossi Milo Gallery, NYC.

Update, Feb. 1, 2013: The title and first paragraph of this piece were changed to more accurately reflect the artist's intentions. (Return to the revised paragraph.)

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.