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”.