The Photographers’ Gallery presents Anima and The Widest Prairies, the first UK solo exhibition by Dutch artist Charlotte Dumas.
Dumas’ compelling images of animals aim to provoke subtle relationships between the viewers and the subject, presenting them as catalysts for our emotions. Her tender portrayals express a vulnerability that is as much about the human onlookers as the animals.
Dumas’ practice often focuses on working animals - dogs and horses - whose social function is dutiful and tightly interwoven with human life. This exhibition features her first moving image work Anima (2012) alongside selected photographs from her latest series The Widest Prairies (2013).
Anima, Latin for soul, is a contemplative video of the caisson burial horses of Arlington National Cemetery in the United States. Performing a long held tradition, these horses carry the caskets of members of the armed services to be buried with full honours. Inspired by the high respect war horses are held in by soldiers, composition and lighting of the piece evokes classical 17th century Dutch portraiture both in style and tone. Anima features an intimate view of the horses, capturing their imposing physiques as they drift in and out of sleep. Dipped in low light, surrounded by wood and hay and filmed in near stillness, we watch the horses as - overwhelmed by exhaustion - they slowly lose consciousness.
The Widest Prairies focuses on the wild horses of Dayton, Nevada, famed as one of the first settlements of the gold rush in the West. These horses once symbolised the freedom, possibilities and dreams associated with the American West but now, much like this faded ideal, their very existence is under threat from changing political and economic conditions.
This series of photographic encounters depicts the horses as part of a shifting landscape, exposing their resilient and wild character. Pictured as Nomadic drifters, they visit towns and trailer parks in search of food and water. Some are held in captivity after they are rounded up and taken to correctional centers where they are tamed and trained by inmates. Dumas also observed groups of horses in corrals, photographing them in profile, seemingly lost in contemplation during rare moments where they would allow her to come closer.
Both bodies of work examine the physical and emotional planes shared by humans and animals. They offer reflective portrayals of the animal psyche, yielding a psychological depth and solace through which the viewer’s own feelings can be mirrored.