distance and seeing


Flach calls his photographs portraits, and yet they often lack faces. In a portrait of a sphinx cat, the head is just outside the frame, leaving the viewer to contemplate the skin folds on an anonymous, hairless, pink body. On page 248 is a rusty keyhole dropped onto a pile of white and orange stones that is actually the eye of a gecko. Stretched across two pages at the beginning of the book is a grey swathe of skin and fur. Brown cracks run along folds in the skin. What animal does this skin belongs to? An elephant? A monkey? You aren’t even sure what part of the animal it is. An ear? An arm? Never mind not seeing the forest for the trees. In this animal portrait of flesh and fur, you cannot even see the trees for the bark. Flach writes that his aim with these photographs is to bring the viewer “into an unnatural proximity to the subject and [allow] them to engage with it, creating an unreality that in turn brings the viewer closer to reality.” Flach’s photography holds out the promise that the animals will reveal more to us the nearer we get to them. But the closeness of the photographs often brings us to a wall rather than a door. On page 176, an armadillo is rolled up into a ball of its own shell. The detail on the shell’s surface is a bit like flowered wallpaper. The animal is all surface. You cannot see the armadillo’s face, or its legs, or anything identifying it as animal. It may be a rock for all we know. We are told there’s an animal in this portrait yet it’s nearly impossible to find.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.