BY JÖRG KOOPMANN
Format 23×30cm, 106 photos, 160 pages, Hardcover
Edition 1000, handnumbered
Text Daniel Pies, curator, Karlsruhe
Design Bureau Mirko Borsche, München
Prize € 34.- incl mailing within germany
CAT SEEN WAS SHORTLISTED FOR DEUTSCHE BÖRSE PHOTOGRAPHY PRIZE 2010
AND AT ARLES PHOTOFESTIVAL 2010 SHORTLIST BEST 40 EUROPEAN PHOTOBOOKS
Cat Seen contrasts two narratives, arranged in left—right axial fashion:
animal portraits taken throughout the globe are juxtaposed against abandoned
Post-Katrina New Orleans homes that have been searched and tagged
by the SPCA and others seeking lost pets. Koopman’s binary
(“pet houses” and “the naked forest”) acts as a subtle meditation
on the relationship between the domesticated and the feral;
it likewise documents an improvised means of hermetic
classification (“10/5 DOGS UNDER HOUSE,” “9/28 1 Cat Upstairs”),
a system that exists as both architectural intervention
and a marker of the objects of human attachment.
The Lives of Others
Text on back-cover by Daniel Pies
Translation by Sabine Koopmann
It looks a little lost there, the kangaroo, sitting in the middle of the room between tea trolley and sideboard, ears peeked, facing something outside the viewers field of vision. Or the squirrel, similarly isolated between the rainy worlds of a suburban fence and a few garbage bags and old boards strewn among puddles on a street corner in Montreal. Also the eagle, actually the king of birds, here leashed to a tripod somewhere on a sidewalk in St. Petersburg, an abandoned beverage booth in the background along with some street barriers moved aside, a man sitting on top of them just as uninvolved.
It is strange worlds that the animals inhabit in Jörg Koopmann’s “The Naked Forest”, the kangaroo in the living room, the barking dog on the back seat of a car, or the cow resting in a parking lot. Oddly familiar and yet foreign, these worlds, however, bear nothing exotic even if a European gaze might not be at home in them. On the contrary, those street corners and car seats, those park benches and front yards, dirt trails and meadows, populated by cats, dogs, ducks, foxes, squirrels, are entirely common and everyday places; they are the sites in which our daily lives evolve in this civilized world. At their strangeness as environments, they only arrive through being claimed by creatures that are not we. Creatures we may well share our orderly world with, but who may not necessarily abide by the rules we have established for it.
It is as if a boarder had taken up residence in the house of man, a boarder we knew about, whom we even invited ourselves, but who has remained a stranger despite all familiarity.
A boarder, for example, for whom the garbage can represents the beginning and not the end of the food chain. Through this lens, our everyday worlds might not appear entirely alien, but emerge as much more heterogeneous than we generally assume. Indelibly, the trace of another life has been inscribed within them, a life that we ordinarily designate as “nature”, locating it beyond the territories we believe to have wrenched from it.
If nothing else, we begin to question these familiar environments due to the way in which we encounter the animals in Koopmann’s “Naked Forest”. Caught at mid distance, they are placed in the centre of the image as an opposite of the human gaze, without being subservient, but also without getting estranged. The animal is neither anthropomorphized by close-ups nor is it completely removed from the human world by being turned into the object of a zoological gaze. Rather, we encounter the animal in heterogeneous zones of transition shared by different kinds of bodies, but bodies nevertheless. It neither appears to us as the wild counterpart of civilized man nor as its disneyfied alter ego. On the contrary, the animal comes into view as an individuated being that shares its habitat with man as both, an at the same time similar and different form of life.
That the space of civilization is not a homogeneous sphere purged of any kind of alterity also becomes apparent in the series “Pet Houses”, that Koopmann juxtaposes with the images from “The Naked Forest” in this book. While “The Naked Forest” materialized as a coherent series from an originally selective interest over the past ten years, with few exceptions the photos for “Pet Houses” were taken in New Orleans during February 2006, about half a year after Hurricane Katrina had laid waste to the city. The neighborhoods Koopmann’s photography takes us through are still abandoned at this point in time, the houses damaged, the residents have not returned yet. These are images of a disaster that confront us with the other of culture not as a corporeal opposite, but as the intrusion of a primary force. The destroyed houses, yards, streets here merely figure as a trace of a formerly civilized space that has been overwhelmed and reclaimed by the forces of nature.
At a second glance it shows, however, that the connection between the images is not just the destruction and the disappropriation through nature, but also a peculiar system of notations covering the walls of the damaged houses. The facade of a white wooden house for example shows the following spray-painted swath: 10/9 CAT SEEN UNDER HOUSE F/W, amended in a different script above: 10/13 F/W. And a few pages earlier on the garage door of a single family home in red paint: 9/28 ONE CAT UPSTAIRS F/W SPCA, next to it further dates and abbreviations in yellow and black script. These notations were created in the weeks immediately following the storm. Especially in the poorer districts of New Orleans many inhabitants were forced to leave behind their pets due to the refusal of the overtaxed state agencies to evacuate people along with their pets. More than 50,000 such animals were thus left to their own devices in the almost completely abandoned residential areas. During the following days various non-governmental animals rescue organizations like the SPCA and the HSUS supplied water and food for the animals. Under the improvised conditions of the disaster and the collapse of infra- and communication structures, they left messages on the walls of houses in order to signal to subsequent rescuers, whether and what kind of animals had been found in the homes, when and how they had been provided for. (F/W for food and water).
Considering the images in Jörg Koopmann’s “Cat Seen” with this background in mind, the two photo series seem to trigger a set of peculiar reversals. While the animal in “The Naked Forest” confronts us as the familiar other of the a civilized world, which still blazes its own life’s trail amidst this world, the animals in “Pet Houses” seem to have entirely taken over the world of civilisation: especially dogs and cats, but also some fish, swans, and ducks haunt the graffiti of the destroyed houses as their new inhabitants. If it wasn’t for our knowledge of the history of these images one could think they have advanced from mere boarders to being the new landlords. At the same time, however, it is now man who paves his way through the wilderness of the ruins as the other of nature, imposing his signature upon the wild once again by rescuing the pets as a domesticated version of himself. Beyond its immediate documentary aspects, Jörg Koopmann’s photography seems to guide us into a sphere of reversals and interdependencies, that gives us an idea of what it might mean that the lives of others are also our own.
Die Welt ist bewohnt, hat Augen und schaut auf uns zurück. Hunde, Katzen, Esel, Eichhörnchen begegnen uns, wo immer wir sind. Ponies räkeln sich auf Lichtungen, Känguruhs sitzen in Wohnzimmern, der König der Lüfte sitzt zornig auf dem gleichen Beton wie wir. Tiere stehen im Mittelpunkt von Cat Seen dem ersten Fotobuch des Münchner Bildautoren Jörg Koopmann. Auf seinen Reisen und Reportagen rund um die Welt begegnen dem Fotografen immer wieder die Anderen. Der Intuition und einer spontanen Verliebtheit folgend entstand so über Jahre eine umfangreiche Fotosammlung von Wild- und Haustieren in ihren Habitaten an der nächsten Straßenecke, im Park oder vor der Stadt. „Jenseits ihrer unmittelbar dokumentarischen Aspekte scheinen uns die Fotografien von Jörg Koopmann in einen Raum der Verkehrungen und gegenseitigen Bedingtheiten zu führen, der eine Ahnung davon vermittelt, was es heißen könnte, dass das Leben der Anderen auch das unsrige ist,“ schreibt Daniel Pies im Nachwort über Cat Seen. Die Tier Serie war 2008 für ein ganzes Jahr die wöchentliche Fotokolumne im ZEIT LEBEN Magazin. Ein Bild pro Woche, mit einer wachsenden Fangemeinde rund um „Das Tier im Mittelpunkt.“ Der Buchtitel Cat Seen verweist auf eine zweite Serie, die der Tierserie linksseitig gegenübergestellt wird und sich erst auf der letzten Seite vermischt. Koopmann besuchte zweimal in Folge New Orleans nach den Zerstörungen durch Wirbelsturm Katrina im August 2005. Hier fotografierte er verlassene Häuser, in denen die flüchtenden Bewohner ihre Haustiere zurücklassen mussten. Diese Häuser wurden von Aktivisten privater Tierschutzorganisationen markiert, die diese Tiere notdürftig versorgt hatten. Katrina verschwand. Zurück blieben Zerstörung und die Graffiti der Nothelfer. Wo sind die Tiere? Die tragische Abwesenheit der Haustiere von New Orleans konstrastiert Jörg Koopmann mit der nackten Anwesenheit von Tieren mitten unter uns. Im Gegensatz dieser An- und Abwesenheit der Protagonisten seiner Fotoserien Naked Forest und Pet Houses liegt der imaginative space, den Koopmann dem Betrachter in Cat Seen offen hält.
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