Photographs are copyright of Amy Stein
A couple purchase a beautiful cactus in the desert at a roadside stand. The cactus is budding and about to bloom. They hurry home and perch it on a decorative counter in their living room. And they watch with anticipation, but something wrong seems to be happening. The cactus is starting to bulge in odd places. And suddenly it explodes in a shower of black widow spiders. Or was that scorpions? Oh yes, one of many famous Urban Legends, folk stories that have just an ounce of credibility. And taps into your primal fear.
Likewise, Amy Stein re-creates suburban stories for us, that ring true, for have we not had a chance encounter of something similar? I live off a golf course (we call the coyote freeway) adjacent to a National Forest and discovered a bobcat on our back patio, who almost seemed domesticated. It calmly sat there one early morning watching us as we drank our coffee watching it though the glass sliding doors. Then it sauntered off almost indifferently as it gently squeezed itself through our wrought iron fence and back into the “wild”. An Amy Stein moment.
There is a heighten tension in many of Stein’s photographs, as she connects us with that chance wild encounter, the one that we secretly fear and not even talk about, because that alone could make it happen. The small girl stands at a open gate to unexpectantly confront a wild coyote, which pauses to stare back. What could happen next, and we become afraid for the girls safety. Have we also not heard the many stories of the mayhem caused by wild animals to small children. Her photographs tap into a primal fear we have of “what if”, that anxiety we experience and dread when watching our children stray further from our protective reach. What if?
There is also another theme concurrently running through her photographs, that of the cause and effect of our presence and subsequet displacement of nature. The natural environmental footprint is dimensioned as a result of mankind’s encroachment. To survive, wildlife adapt, and to perhaps Stein’s point, to a state of near domestication. To protect our new domain, we erect fencing to control nature, to hopefully exclude wild nature from treading on our artificial domesticated nature. We purchase token wild animals, or in this case, killer parakeets, and hold them captive for our occasional enjoyment, while just outside the window, paradoxically, is the real nature.
The balance of nature is shifting, for predictors and prey alike. And we who created the shift are caught somewhere in between. Perhaps we all have stories of an uncle or cousin who just can not help themselves, but who take full advantage of the changes, much the skilled outdoors-man who bags his quota shooting over the backyard fence. Humorous but yet like many suburban tales, with enough of a bit of truth to be taken as a true “real” story.
And last, but not least, we have changed the order of nature. That a coyote no longer recognizes the moon, but howls at the artificial light that it has now become accustomed to. Perhaps because of the ambient street lights, smog, smoke and haze, the moon no longer has a viable presence, but the wild still prevails, and a sad wail still pierces the dark.
I can relate to Stein photographs and stories, because I think that they just might be really true….maybe.
The softcover book was printed in Hong Kong, has a trim size of 10″ x 8 1/2″, with 64 pages and 25 color photographs, and published at the end of 2008 by Photolucida. The Introduction was provided by Alison Nordstrom. The book’s design was developed by Anthony de Franco, while Andy Gutrie and Mathilde Simian assisted with the editing and sequencing of the photographs, and together they have created a wonderful classical and readable presentation of Stein’s photographs, single photograph per spread, with a nice margin framing each photograph. Amy Stein was a Photolucida 2006 Critical Mass winner.
By Douglas Stockdale