THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
by Nick Ogilvie
On first entering the David Yarrow show at Hilton | Asmus gallery, I stepped back in amazement at the oversize photo of an elephant in full charge mode. With increased poaching and ever more animals being hunted to extinction, the conservation of wild animals has never been more urgent.
This sensitive issue is central to Scottish fine-art photographer, conservationist, and writer, David Yarrow. He creates compelling stories through his gripping images of these rare and endangered beasts and their threatened realms.
In “Wild Encounters,” Yarrow attempts to bridge the gap between the disparate worlds of the manufactured human environment and the natural animal kingdom through his wildlife portrait photographs. Yarrow calls this collection, “Iconic Photographs of the World’s Vanishing Animals and Cultures” and every image is evidence of this theme.
Yarrow captures these magnificent, endangered animals in towering prints of overpowering impact. He captures them in a range of stunning settings, from the frozen Alaskan tundra to the tropics of South Sudan. Yarrow has scoured every world continent to bring what remains of the wild natural world to human awareness.
In the gallery’s tight quarters, his animal subjects appear life-size, at just arms-length, ready to step out of the frame and pounce. That is the feeling I experienced eyeing both a bison (The American Idol) and elephant (Lugard).
David Yarrow, The Circle of Life
Through his keen sense of composition, it’s the balance of motion and stillness that imparts each image with its sense of life and energy. Whether it be a teeming mass of moving cattle in Mankind II or a striding Giraffe caught mid-gait amidst streaming clouds of dust, framed by a beautifully still sky in Heaven Can Wait; the essence of captured motion makes the animals come alive.
This rich imagery, presented in crisp black and white tones, makes it easy to feel the sense of the animals’ natural majesty which Yarrow seeks to capture. Part conservation effort, part tribute to the beauty of the natural world, and part semi-mystical examination of the world beyond the human vision, such provocative imagery manages to renew and revive the connection of human and animal.
I reacted strongly to the beautiful ways in which the deliberate use of monochrome frames each of the photos. Yarrow himself cites a Warhol quote in the description for one of his photos, wryly noting that “my favorite color is black and my other favorite color is white.” His use of monochrome shines, whether in starkly contrasting photos like The Factory, where a herd of zebras contrast and play against each other; or through a depth of tones, such as in 78 degrees where a polar bear strides off into the distance enveloped by a field of pristine snow.
Still photography is a difficult medium to control and capture the alive nature of wild animals. There’s something beautifully simple about Yarrow’s use of monochrome that frames each photo. Settled on this spectrum of monochromatic color, the detail of each animal, from individual hairs to droplets of water and dust, pops off the page.
Humans, it seems, have a role to play in the visual world that David Yarrow envisages. In The Don, a nude model stands astride a cheetah in the desert. In Mankind I, a sole human hangs on a pole amongst a teeming field of cattle. Humans and the way in which we too are involved in the natural world fascinates Yarrow.
A striking example of this interaction is The Wolf of Main Street. A wolf strides on the bar top of an old saloon with patrons drinking and shooting pool nonchalantly in the background.
Documentation is a method of preserving the natural world that exists beyond the confines of our restricted modern lives. These moments, so elegantly captured before our eyes, are symbolic of things that are slowly fading away. This presentation of aesthetic beauty is indicative, in an ironic way, of the very destruction being inflicted upon such majestic creatures.
The exhibition has been extended until early February.
Nick Ogilvie, who hails from Scotland, is enrolled in his sophomore year at the University of Chicago. He also contributes writings on the arts for “The Maroon,” the student newspaper.
David Yarrow, American Idol
David Yarrow, Mankind II