01.07.2022 Claire Rosen

Figurines & Forewarnings: Animal Allegory at Shenandoah Park

Claire Rosen

Exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, Claire Rosen uses metaphorical statuettes to chronicle the destruction of American wildlife

Around 300 years ago, Virginia’s national park was a bustling epicenter of natural beauty. Bison, elk, wolves, and cougars were just some of the creatures that existed in a dynamic ecosystem, flourishing amidst gloriously picturesque landscapes. Centuries on, populations have dwindled, and environs have grown worn. As deforestation and climate change ran amuck, some organisms were even wiped out completely. Drawing attention to these ongoing crises, Claire Rosen’s latest project conveys a caution – a whimsical, imaginative representation of a plausible future if we don’t act soon.

“In these iconic natural landscapes, I staged a figurine animal as a representation of the area’s most vulnerable creatures… majestic animals that would normally have graced these lands,” Claire begins. “It’s a very bleak prospect, but one day, synthetic replicas may be all children have left to interact with. Inspired by traditional wildlife photography, this project aims to raise awareness and provoke discussion about our role in the disappearance of these habitats and species. They’re the heart of the natural world, and we have to consider the consequences of our current actions, and how they might affect future generations.”

  • Figurine of beaver swimming in river
  • Figurine of owl flying above woodland landscape

Photos 2021 © Claire Rosen | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/25 sec at F16, ISO 640 | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/1000 sec at F20, ISO 800

Stemming from a preoccupation with whimsy, pastoral fiction and anthropomorphism, Claire’s outlook centers on the possibility that our current behaviors may be all that stands between these animals and potential extinction. The power and immediacy of this message required a dependable setup, but thanks to her GFX100S, Claire never found herself inhibited or lacking direction. Like many photographers we’ve interviewed, she’s enamored with the camera’s adaptability in challenging surroundings.

“The thing I love about this camera, and Fujifilm in general, is that I don’t really have to think about the process. It’s so easy to use, and so light,” she beams. “The IBIS was also a massive aid because I wasn’t always shooting with a tripod. I was sometimes perched on a mossy rock, a little off kilter – but it didn’t matter. The image was always stable and clean. Other times, I was creating images at night using high ISOs, and I kid you not, there was virtually no noise.” All in all, the GFX100S was more than a match for the scale of Claire’s challenges. For a selection of intricate, more detailed compositions, she also extols the virtues of the equipment in a more unique context. “My images are quite complicated. For me, the most important thing is creating really detailed prints. To be able to have the files hold up is fantastic. You can really open them up and highlight in post. They’re amazing files to work with.”

  • Figurine of chipmunk on tree
  • Figurine of squirrel on branch surrounded by red leaves

Photos 2021 © Claire Rosen | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F8, ISO 400 | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/320 sec at F4, ISO 50

Opting for the resourcefulness of a zoom, Claire would use just one lens throughout the entirety of this shoot: the GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR. It allowed her to be malleable and adapt shots as and where necessary, as well as simplifying her setup. “I didn’t want to carry a lot of lenses. It’s a very versatile piece of glass, and I don’t like to switch. From close-ups to expansive shots, it worked out really well, and helped flatten the focal points.” Along with its flexibility, Claire found the GF32-64mm ideal for creating visual distinctions in the background and foreground of each frame. “The bokeh contributes to the storytelling aspect,” she outlines. “There can be a lot happening all at once, so I make sure to isolate the animals, so you can really see them.” When capturing the vivid hues of the changing seasons, Claire also commends the GFX100S for its broad high dynamic range. “From sunrise with the extirpated eastern cougar, to well into the starry evening with the eastern timber wolves, I would use a high ISO and long exposures, drawing out colors that extended far beyond what I could see with my bare eyes,” she explains. “Whether turning the lens on the epic mountainous vistas, or focusing on a very small patch of moss, the clarity and tonal range of the large format sensor was really impressive.”

  • Figurines of stags on mossy rock formation
  • Figurine of owl perched on cliff edge

Photos 2021 © Claire Rosen | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/40 sec at F20, ISO 200 | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F16, ISO 200

For this project to be successful, Claire’s images had to be as realistic as possible upon first glance, but also retain the artificiality of the toy, prompting a double take from her audience. Creating technically believable scenes with rigid, lifeless plastic was a tricky task, as well as ensuring the scale and perspective was in proportion. “It often required me to lie with the camera on the ground, river, or waterfall to get the shot,” she laughs, recalling the trials and tribulations of photographing these miniature models. “While I am sure I looked quite ridiculous to the passing hiker, it was all made easier by the multidirectional swivel LCD. Sometimes a rock or clump of moss would have to serve as a makeshift tripod! The intuitive controls meant I could concentrate on building my compositions, as opposed to getting bogged down by endlessly readjusting camera settings.”

Photo 2021 © Claire Rosen | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/20 sec at F11, ISO 320

Although she was gently reprimanded by an amused park ranger, Claire’s weather-resistant kit features meant she could crawl into a waterfall during a light drizzle – a stalwart turn that made certain her framing was just right. It was a tumultuous shoot, but in the end, her results speak to a thought-provoking appraisal of Virginia’s multifaceted wildlife sphere – facilitated by Fujifilm’s flagship equipment. “The aesthetic and technical execution of my images are vital on a subconscious level. They pull in viewers to engage in these conversations. To create an image that is more than just the frame, you need a camera that is more than its body. For me, Fujifilm has done that with its GFX100S.”