Photographer Brad Wilson has been photographing animals against dark backgrounds for over a decade. For him, it was not enough to take their picture – he wanted to capture the portrait of an “authentic encounter”.
Wilson works with zoos and wildlife sanctuaries who bring animals to his studio where he then photographs them the same way he would approach a person. In 2012 he shared a short video that shows how he works with animals in the studio and in 2015 posted a series of striking photos of owls.
According to Wilson, this makes the animals more grounded and three-dimensional and emphasizes their beautiful, approachable yet mysterious nature.
He describes the situation as a kind of “controlled chaos”, but this ultimately allows him to create images that show each animal as an individual being with its own personality and dignity. He says he intentionally avoids anthropomorphism in favor of a “wise and respectful approach” to these creatures.
“This project started over a decade ago with a seemingly simple thought that quickly turned into a creative imperative: I want to do animal portraits,” Wilson explains.
“What followed was anything but simple, and from the start I was immersed in something far more complex and meaningful than I could have imagined. My initial attraction to these subjects was purely visual – the bold patterns and the intense colors expressed in fur, feathers, scales and skin, the extraordinary range of body types and musculature and, most importantly, the remarkably distinct and powerful eyes.
Wilson says he’s always been interested in the precision that creates and reveals beauty: the moment when mood, stillness, lighting and composition align perfectly to conjure up an image of something common as well as unusual.
“I had spent my career photographing people, subjects that I largely controlled. I told them what to do, and because we shared a common language and a general spirit of collaboration, they obeyed,” he explains.
“Now I was faced with subjects doing whatever they wanted without regard to me or my artistic agenda. Specific verbal instructions were replaced by patient waiting and observation, a level of intention and concentration that bordered on meditation.
Through this long-term project, Wilson says he has gained incredible respect and admiration for the animals of the planet. He also says that despite the fact that animals are extremely important not only to the global ecosystem but also to human society, they have been pushed to the margins of human civilization into often perilous places that put their existence at risk.
“Their fate is fundamentally linked to ours and we must realize that our ascendancy can no longer continue at the expense of all the wildlife around us. Conservation is now critically important, not just to save animals, but to save ourselves,” he says.
“I hope that this set of works can constitute a testimony worthy of these disappearing faces, a kind of bridge, to remind us that we are not alone, we are not separated; we are part of a deeply interconnected diversity of life.
Wilson’s photos are published by Damiani in a new 163-page photo book called “The Other World” and is currently available in bookstores and on Amazon. More from Wilson can be found on his website and Instagram.
Picture credits: Photos by Brad Wilson.