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Gregory Colbert, on behalf of the elephants

Gregory Colbert is the photographer and videographer behind Ashes and Snow, a remarkable exhibition of three films and over 100 large photographs of animals, hoping to inspire a magical and inspirational view of nature. The show, hosted in a set of shipping containers – a nomadic museum – has been touring the world. He explains that it’s a “bestiary”, a poetic understanding of animals in their environment. “A universal bestiary has never existed, that features all the totemic animals from around the planet.”

He shows us ten minutes of his film, shot in sepiatone, featuring slow moving images of people juxtaposed with animals. Children sit in water, as an elephant’s trunk dangles. A child stands outside a temple, as a hawk lands on his back, making it look as if he has wings. It unfolds with a sort of dream logic, image after totemic image, as children and elephants swim under water, hawks fly down corridors and a young boy sleeps curled up with a leopard.

(Editorializing: Colbert introduces the film by telling us that none of the images have been retouched or digitally altered. This makes me wonder about the scene where a child is, apparently, attacked by hyenas – were the human performers people who trained these animals and had relationships with them? Or were his human subject placed in situations of incredible danger?)

Colbert suggests we should renegotiate our contract with nature. It is common practice to compensate people for fair use of their property in advertising – actors, musicians are paid for their roles. This has not been the case for nature and animals. He suggests that when Ford uses mustangs to brand a car, they have a responsibility to give back and sustain the environment that they’re taking from.

He’s founding Animal Copyright and the Animal Copyright Foundation. The foundation will collect 1% of all media buys that use animals, and will distribute these funds to conservation projects around the world. In three years, it will become the largest environmental fund in the world without any fundraising. “Corporate poachers” who don’t use Animal Copyright will be shamed by bloggers, the media and others if they don’t display an Animal Copyright symbol.

“On behalf of the elephants, thank you for listening”.

11 thoughts on “Gregory Colbert, on behalf of the elephants”

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  4. So, if Donna Karan and other high-rollers are paying Colbert from $60,000 to $350,000USD for a photograph, how much has Colbert “paid” the animals that have appeared in his work? Does he get informed consent and release waivers from his subjects? When, exactly, is this Animal Copyright Foundation going to come online?

  5. I saw the films and photographs recently. I wonder if the animals were trained in some way. Those birds just don’t fly around dancers for fun and leopards don’t normally sit still for humans or anything else. Just a thought about the honesty of the show.

  6. I just saw Colbert’s “Ashes & Snow” and thought it was amazing. It shows that if we respect other creatures and treat them as equals, they will accept us and allow us to be their friends. It was an honest and heartfelt portrayal of the world that most of only dream about sharing with these magnificent creatures. Those who criticize are just jealous that they weren’t there and couldn’t share those moments.

  7. Why not explain for those few of us in the audience who are (although, like the rest of the audience, obviously amazed by the beauty of the exhibition) concerned about the saftey of the animals and the fair renumeration for the models?
    I want to love it, but need my social conscience at ease in order to fully appreciate it.
    I was relieved Mr. COlbert modeled himself in the most dangerous and moving images of the exhibit.
    Those I went to the exhibit with, think I am off mark, and that it is just about the beauty, and the relationship between sensient animals and primitive wise humans.
    I want to enjoy it as they did. Particularly after the tsunami, I find the elephants playing with humans in the mud a bit disturbing, albeit amazingly beautiful.

  8. It’s a good point, Ellen. I’m constrained by the fact that I’m reporting on a speech and didn’t have the opportunity to ask the speaker any questions. Like you, I’m fascinated and a little disturbed and have lots of unanswered questions about the safety of the animals and people involved.

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