Colleen Plumb

(American, b.1970; resides in Chicago, IL)

Colleen Plumb is interested in how people relate to and interact with the natural world. She began her series, Animals Are Outside Today (1997-ongoing), by looking for examples of "fake nature," as she describes it—simulations of natural environments or their substitutes in urban contexts. The series has developed into Plumb looking to the relationships between humans and animals, giving close consideration to the slight and significant ways in which they become part of our individual and collective experience.

Some of the photographs illustrate how people coexist with or exert control over animals, whether by keeping them as domesticated pets, raising them as livestock, or presenting them to spectators in zoos or circuses. In many of Plumb's images, harsher realities emerge and death becomes an underlying theme. Photographs of pig carcasses in a butcher shop, for instance, underline the unthinking urges of human consumption. Meanwhile, other images depict the bodies of dead animals left to decay in public places, as in one of a gray mouse on a sidewalk, overlooked in a manner that would be inconceivable with human remains. Typically capturing these moments with a narrow depth of field and from a low angle, Plumb brings the viewer in close to the animals, entering their immediate domain, while the wider surroundings become a blur.

Plumb's imagery diverges dramatically from more standard depictions of the animal kingdom--with either romantic or scientific inflections--yet her work doesn't amount to an explicit appeal for animal rights or a criticism of human habits. Rather, her photographs allude to a wide range of attitudes towards the creatures around us, both positive and negative. While some images reflect unnerving or unflattering realities, others allude to how animals capture our imaginations and become sources of inspiration or comfort. Familiar fauna are encountered as the subjects of paintings in museums and of murals emblazened across the sides of buildings, and even taxidermied animals, whether thought of as trophies or specimens, speak to the habit of keeping animals around to be looked at or admired.

Colleen Plumb completed an MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago (1999), and a BFA in Visual Communication from Northern Illinois University (1992).  Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally.  Selected solo exhibitions include:  the Union League Club of Chicago (2012); City Gallery in Chicago’s historic Water Tower (2009); Jen Beckman Gallery, New York, NY (2011); Dina Mitrani Gallery, Miami, FL (2011).  Selected group exhibitions include: the Photographic Center Northwest, Seattle, WA (2009); Gallery 339, Philadelphia, PA (2013); the Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, MA (2009); CITY 2000 at the Chicago Cultural Center (2000).  Plumb’s photographs are in the collections of The Milwaukee Art Museum, the Fidelity Collection in Boston, and the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, among others. Radius Books published her first monograph, The Animals are Outside Today, in 2011. Plumb is currently an adjunct faculty member at Columbia College Chicago.

Pig Roast, 2004Pig Roast, 2004
Penguin, 2009Penguin, 2009

Past Portfolio

In Colleen Plumb’s work, she examines the relationship between humans and nature, using the juxtaposition of “real” and “simulated” nature to make her point. Questioning levels of authenticity, Plumb’s photographs examine the artifice in contemporary urban life, seeking a deeper understanding of our relationships to the natural world.

Plumb earned her MFA from Columbia College Chicago (1999), where she currently teaches part-time. She holds a BFA in Visual Communication from Northern Illinois University, DeKalb (1992), and works in graphic design, as well. Her recent photography exhibitions include the Renaissance Society 2003 Benefit, University of Chicago; The Glass Curtain Gallery; ARCGallery, Chicago; and The Chicago Cultural Center CITY 2000 exhibit You Are Here.


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