7 minute read

Emblems of Eradication

Drawing upon the quaint curiosities of anthropomorphic fiction, Claire Rosen’s figurative figurines are testament to America’s declining animal population

Whether it’s the poignancy of Pixar or the oddities of Grahame, instilling animals with human characteristics has been a storytelling trope for decades. A need to comprehend the associations between humanity and the animal kingdom has produced a compassionate symbolic language – one that enables identification while deftly picking apart the parallels between homo sapiens and our creaturely counterparts.

Fascinated by the novelties of animal experience, Claire Rosen’s portfolio encompasses an extensive study of various species, united by a symbolic connection to the anthropological. From recreating da Vinci’s renowned The Last Supper with an assortment of birds, mammals and lizards, to using interior decor to represent the forced migration of parrots into domestic surroundings, Claire’s playful quirks embody an oddball sensibility. They’re images that may appear decorative, ornate… maybe even a little skin deep. But look closer and you’ll uncover a more profound, layered analysis of issues concerning the natural world. “My childhood threads are clear. When I was really little, I was captivated by animals. I had the traditional experiences of zoos and circuses, and got especially interested in horses at one point. You could even say I was obsessed,” she recalls. “I’ve always felt completely drawn to nature. My mom jokes about how hysterical I was when we’d have to leave the Natural History Museum. I wanted to move in with the animals! The Victorian era is transfixing – especially the collecting and categorizing aspects. That aesthetic and period has always resonated with me, and the influence is pronounced in my work. All my favorite childhood books were anthropomorphic. Animals having dinner parties and tea parties – The Wind in the Willows, in particular. Beautiful illustrations that I’m still so enamored with and inspired by.”

Packaging her work as accessible portraits and zany prints, Claire recently traveled to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to continue in a similar vein. This time, she framed animal figurines against gorgeous green landscapes, exploring the corrosion of populations and environments with a FUJIFILM GFX100S camera and GF32-64mmF4 lens. Communicated via the artificiality of plastic ornaments in natural, picturesque backgrounds, her images are at once verdant and synthetic; a powerful contrast that emphasizes the underlying message of this project.

“Posing it in that way communicates the consequences,” she explains. “If we continue as we are, your children and grandchildren will never get to see certain animals. They’ll never have that experience. The models are a representation of the area’s most vulnerable creatures. In a dark, but imaginable future, these imitation replicas will be all children have left: plastic imitations of what once was.” By preserving the cosmetic quality of these commodities, Claire reinforces a quaintness, but also picks apart the gaudiness of ‘aesthetically pleasing’ wildlife photography – often more concerned with pomp than conservation.

In the early 1700s, the Shenandoah Valley was a rich, abundant landscape, replete with wildlife of all varieties. As settlers cleared land and introduced domestic animals, populations drastically decreased and many species were hunted to extinction. By 1798, American bison were wiped out, and by 1855, elk followed suit. Today, Shenandoah is a refuge for many animals otherwise pressured by human activities. Instead of carting her camera to its more familiar wildlife spots, Claire adopted authorial control over her images. Using carefully crafted models, she replicates the likeness of each creature with startling resemblance, but like all great metaphorical art, the recipient is required to emotionally invest in something fake and simulated. The ensuing effect draws attention to the pretense, and in this case, the implications are a solemn reminder of the potential fate these animals face. “To ensure the project was successful, the images had to be as realistic as possible upon first glance, but also retain the inauthenticity of a toy. Upon further inspection, the viewer realizes they were not in fact real animals, but rather symbolic reflections of the issues at hand.” As well as a topical choice, the decision was also a logistical one. “Photographing live animals can be a lot to handle, so I opted for situations I could easily manipulate. With regards to location, national parks play such an important role in conservation, and they’re some of the only remaining spaces that are still accessible for animals in this country,” she laments. “Shenandoah always interested me. I realized how quickly certain facets have been eradicated, but also noticed contemporary efforts to restore it to its former glory. While they haven’t brought back the bison and some of the larger animals, it’s become a crucial habitat for smaller creatures.”

Photographing over a three-day period, Claire garnered a newfound appreciation for the ecology of the park. Far from a fragmented collection, Shenandoah proved to be a multifaceted, unified hub. A stark realization prompted her to consider the indifference we often have for these complex systems. “Everything was interconnected. I just hope people will become more mindful. I don’t like to be accusatory or aggressive, but there’s a lot of room for further care. Once you remove parts of the ecosystem, it crumbles. We think of everything in isolation, and don’t appreciate the impact of removing one element. It all feels so shortsighted – we disregard this beautiful, functional system because we’re so arrogant.” Concerning herself with a multitude of conservationist causes, it’s no surprise that a financial percentage of every print Claire sells goes to an animal welfare charity. “I’m interested in expanding my work beyond the realm of photography. I want it to be accessible to everyone, but more importantly, I want to be able to contribute to the conversation – so this is my way of engaging.”

Beginning her photographic career in the world of fashion, Claire’s approach has always been stylistic and distinct, but her ambitions have morphed substantially over the years. “My Birds of a Feather series was a real turning point. Up until then, I thought I wanted to be a commercial or fashion photographer. I was under the misconception it was the only way to make a living in this medium,” she laughs. “I didn’t think anyone would care about it, but it got a surprising amount of attention. I realized then that I could make the art I wanted, which was fabulous. It shifted my whole perspective. Something can be decorative, but it can also have all these layers. And that’s ideal for those who want to involve themselves on a deeper level.

Figurines of foxes running on mossy log

Photo 2021 © Claire Rosen | FUJIFILM GFX100 and GF63mmF2.8 R WR, 1/40 sec at F4, ISO 250

Perusing Claire’s photos, it’s clear that a common thread bonds her imagery together. Staging these sculptures in particular scenarios, togetherness and companionship are stressed as key touchpoints. Amid a re-emerging pandemic, they’re expressive prompts to what we share with the natural world. “I tried to mimic each animal’s behavior,” she explains. “The mountain lion is usually solitary, wolves travel in packs, and bears will have cubs at certain times of year. I like to anthropomorphize these creatures, so that we recognize they have dynamics, feelings, and families – just like us. Maybe you’ll care a little bit more if that’s apparent.”


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