Enter the Fantastical Realm of Photographer Karen Knorr
Photo: Palaiyakkaras, Hazararama Temple Hampi, 2012. 23.5 x 30 inch archival pigment print. Edition of 5. (detail).
On Saturday, as April the Giraffe gave birth to a male giraffe at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York. An estimated 1.25 million people watched the miracle of life unfold on livestream, Tweeting up a storm, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this poor creature will be separated from April once he is weaned. Unable to live in the wild, the baby giraffe is destined to live his entire life in captivity and kept on display as fodder for the insatiable human appetite to consume the natural world.
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The birth comes at a time when the Giraffe Conservation Foundation has warned that the giraffe population has plummeted more than 40% over the past three decades, placing it on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List,” with the threat of extinction looming on the horizon.
Giraffes are but one of the countless creatures being brought to the brink of death, whether hunted down by poachers or dealing with the tragic loss of natural habitats. At the same time, animals are continuously kidnapped and forced into captivity, forced to live in unnatural conditions until the day they die, their only purpose to serve as sources of “entertainment” for an unempathetic populace.
The disjunction between nature and culture is so vast that people take pleasure and pride in casting animals in manmade scenarios taken to narcissistic heights. German photographer Karen Knorr understands this, and has created a body of work that both critiques this perversion, while simultaneously playing it up.
By casting photographs of animals going about their day in European museums and mansion as well as Indian palaces and temples, Knorr’s photographs underscore a pathology we just can’t shake: the desire to disregard the essence of nature for pleasure’s sake. By allowing animals to roam freely through the scenes, we imagine them as simply another possession that haunts the most delusional dreams: that of the exotic pet that is subservient to the strictures we are forced to endure under the so-called “civility” of the modern world.
In Karen Knorr, Danziger Gallery, New York, presents a collection of the artist’s works made between 2003 and 2016. Currently on view through May 15, the exhibition is a visual tour de force. Knorr seduces us with the luxuries of life, of the sensual pleasures of the material world. Here, the animals bring these spaces to life, as no humans intercede with their comings and going. Instead, we simply see our world overrun by animals who act appropriately—there is no muss, no fuss, not ravaging of the delicacies of wealth. Instead, the animals speak to the deeper love that drew 1.25 million to watch April give birth: the love of acquisition no matter what form it takes.
There is no moral imperative, no greater lesson, nothing beyond the clash between beauty and illusion, fantasy and reality—as we find ourselves wanting these photographs to be “real” above all else. But somewhere, within that blind desire, the ambiguity hits—and that’s where Knorr’s brilliance succeeds. What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?
Ask the giraffes. They already know.
All photos: © Karen Knoff, courtesy of Danziger Gallery.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.