In Lennette Newell’s Ani-human series, the gap between humans and wild animals is diminished, along with any hierarchy that has been imposed by the technology of man.
A: How do your works challenge societal norms and juxtaposing natural worlds?
LN: I believe my ani-human series challenges the societal norm by reposing animals on a comparable playing field with the human species or paramount to. The animal kingdom includes more than 2,000,000 species, humans being just one of those. The series proposes that a tranquil co-inhabitance can exist, and therefore the possibility that it could propagate.
A: What is your main objective as a 21st century artist, and how do you think that this fits into the wider arts ecosystem?
LN: My work revolves around the animal kingdom and the importance of ecosystems to sustain all animal life. Our lives are enriched by species diversity, that is in turn dependent on healthy ecosystems. Exploding human population growth coupled with emerging economies are destroying natural habitat at an alarming rate and severely threatening the ecosystem that sustains all life. My background and passion lies with animals, growing up on my Veterinarian fathers ranch. My focus is to encourage the celebration of the shared commonality between species while actively supporting sustainable lifestyles.
A: How do you convey conceptual meaning through composition?
LN: Proximity between the animal and human imparts an intimacy that is crucial to my composition in turn exploring the shared commonalities between species. I prefer to photograph the concept in one capture, however due to the unpredictable nature of some large predators the space between animal and human is reduced in post via composite.
A: Could you describe the process of your works from start to finish?
LN: The ani-human series illustrates a grown-up fantasy that evolved from my childhood imagination and observations of animal behavior on my families ranch. First, we needed to find the right talent who felt the same way as I do about animals. We found Paulo who grew up part time in South Africa and forged a spiritual connection with the baboons who roamed through his township. Paulo is a dancer whose graceful body movements the baboons connected with instantly. Jasmina is an accomplished yogi and ardent animal lover, whose strength, athleticism and gentle spirit allowed her to interact in very close proximity to some very large predators as well becoming entwined with enormous reptiles.
I rented a studio in Los Angeles large enough to make an African elephant feel comfortable. The animal and human were photographed against a large black backdrop and lit with strobes. My crew includes a digital tech, photo assistant and makeup artist. The body painting is very time intensive and as the process unfolded the model would come on set to allow the animal to experience the transformation as it progressed. I worked with the body painting artist weeks in advance sending pictures of animals and discussing the direction of color and pattern to best reference the actual animal, the body painting took up to eight hours for most of the animals. The actual shoot may only take an hour with the best shots happening within the first minutes as animal and human establish their initial bond. I personally did all the image enhancement using Photoshop.
A: Do you think that your works create a sense of connection or dialogue?
LN: Yes, my works depict the connections between difference species, with the intent that viewers imagine the importance and responsibility of their place in the ecosystem, in turn adopting a sustainable lifestyle that supports species diversity and the continuation of nature.
A: What do you hope that viewers take away from each image?
LN: My hope is that viewers experience the images as if they themselves were part of the image, relating to the innocence of a non-scripted emotional response between human and animal, celebrating the singular uniqueness each species processes.
A: What are your plans for 2017?
LN: I’m presently completing work on a primate book. All the images are portraits of primates rendered in black and white.To date I have photographed 19 species, sourced from conservation centers, rescue facilities and educational programmes. In addition, I’m moving to the country in hopes of reestablishing the connection to nature I experienced while growing up on the high plains of Western Nebraska. Also, I hope to continue work on two other series that composite animals and their environment in a scale that is both abstract and surreal.
1. Lennette Newell, Ani-Human. Courtesy of the artist.