About the Photographer
American, b. 1970
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 image 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.
Plumb completed a BFA in visual communication from Northern Illinois University, DeKalb (1992) and an MFA in photography from Columbia College Chicago (1999), where she has taught since 2000.