The chosen ones, 2002 - 2004

The background of my series The Chosen Ones is the very nature of the photographic portrait: the gaze that is directed from the one photographed towards the camera and the photographer, meeting ultimately the viewer regarding the picture. The spectators view cannot be a voyeuristic one if his or her gaze is returned from the picture. It becomes object of narcissistic identification, directed by our libido. Although conscious that the gaze can be directed towards the camera by accident, we have difficulties not seeing ourselves as the object of that gaze. Instead of scrutinizing the gaze as a phenomenon of a technical process, the freezing of a fleeting moment by the camera, we often believe this simple trick and get emotionally involved. The subjects of my portraits in the series The chosen Ones are cows, in many cultures a symbol for natural motherliness and gentleness. Still, most of them never get in contact with either their offspring, after giving birth, or a bull. Otherwise identified by their ear tags, they appear to us as individuals in my pictures.

My approach was, based on that observation, to take pictures of motives about which we know that there is no conscious gaze towards the camera, no knowledge about the process of representation and ultimately the viewer of the picture. Photographing animals, mostly cows, which are only identified by their ear tags makes clear for us that our identification with a photographed phenomenon is more problematic than we would suppose. For this purpose I turned the homes of the animals, their stables where they spend most of their short lives, into a portrait studio. Using up to five studio strobes, often with color filters, sometimes background paper and a large format camera, starting with 4x5” and ending up with 8x10” film, I turned these animals, using different lighting for each one, into individuals for once.

C-prints from 4x5”- and 8x10”-negatives