Brain Pickings

On Loving Animals: A Visual Study of Affection and Its Extremes


What in-bred pugs and retired show cats have to do with the human capacity for selflessness and solipsism.

A few weeks ago, we contemplated the secret emotional lives of animals in the wild, but what about the emotional lives of domesticated animals and their human companions? Whether or not those frequent humorous allegations of physical resemblance between pets and their owners are true, one thing is certain — there’s undeniable emotional synchronicity between human and animal that comes with owning and loving a pet. That’s exactly what Dutch photographer Isabella Rozendaal explores in On Loving Animals — a visual chronicle of what Rozendaal calls “the Dutch and their obsessive, sentimental and sometimes inconsiderate love of animals.” From retired show animals to post-op cats to long-haired dogs with braids and barrettes, these portraits are sometimes tender, sometimes traumatic, and always unabashedly intimate, capturing the rich nuances of what it means to share a life with another being.

[The project’s] aim is to show how the animals are part of our lives, and how we project our own needs onto these beasts.” ~ Isabella Rozendaal

Many of the photographs capture the tragicomic disconnect between the owner’s intention and the pet’s felt experience, as in the case of this clearly not bemused retriever undergoing a doggie spa treatment:

Or the more systemic issues of humans projecting their superficial preferences on nature, as with pugs — dogs once bred to resemble adorable puppies, a “design” that has resulted in troubled breathing due to their compact snouts (which is why you often hear pugs snort), in addition to a host of other health issues stemming from inbreeding.

Visually simple and conceptually rich, the project is as much a voyeuristic tour of other people’s lives as it is a reflection on universal human needs and fault lines on the edges of love and its mutations.

But, ultimately, On Loving Animals is more a portrait of human psychology, with all its capacity for selflessness and propensity for solipsism, spanning the full spectrum of affection and its obsessive extremes.

Images courtesy of Isabella Rozendaal

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