Of One and The Other

Jayanti Seiler

2015 - 2019

Maitland, Florida, United States; DeLand, Florida, United States; Naples, Florida, United States; Daytona Beach, Florida, United States; Tampa, Florida, United States

“Of One and The Other” explores the complexity found in the diverse relationships between animals and humans from points along a spectrum spanning the fine line between adoration, lifesaving, and exploitation. I was compelled to look at the myriad permutations in the treatment of animals that I observed across different environments wherein humans and animals interact today. I spent time among wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers, owners of exotic big cats, children in the 4-H Program that raise farm animals for market, rescue sanctuaries that care for abused and neglected wild and domestic animals, hunters, taxidermists, traveling animal exhibits, and “backyard” sanctuaries that sell “pet and play” encounters with juvenile big cats. Made over a period of five years, the project is broad in scope spanning throughout the USA and abroad, although I have chosen to focus on a select set of images made in Florida. The photographs look at how we desire to coexist harmoniously with animals, yet we seek control, consumption, and domination. These disparities have yet to be reconciled, however there is a growing sensibility and consciousness in Western culture towards animals as sentient, but not equal beings. My photographs live within this larger context and advocate for our fellow inhabitants of this planet who are unable to speak for themselves.

I immersed myself in the commonalities and conflicts of interest between neighboring groups to call attention to the slippery divide; the borderlands we collectively share with our animal counterparts and make pictures about whether or not these figurative boundaries are honored or crossed. The images are a result of my own exploration of the constructs and variabilities found in the human and animal entanglement. My approach was to set my beliefs aside when making the pictures to remain open to the different enactments of adoration and attitudes towards animals. I found that the intrinsic rights of animals manifested differently for the individuals I encountered and that they all loved animals in their own way. The nature of our relationships with animals is neither black nor white or straightforward. Collectively, my images tell a story that needs to be communicated in the most neutral way possible and be presented from many angles of this diverse condition.

Taken as a whole, this series is a critique of the inherently paradoxical framework I experienced within a multitude of contexts where humans and animals intersect from preservation to exploitation and from compassion and harm. Conflicting attitudes and displaced intentions surrounding adoration, escape, capture, release and conservation are woven into the fabric of the photographs. The humans and the animals I depict co-exist and connect across these margins but a wide divergence between the two groups prevails, typically producing tension and contradiction. To coexist harmoniously with our fellow species despite the animals’ displacement from their natural habitat is incongruous and unrealistic. There lies a fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of wildlife and that they should be afforded the same rights, freedom’s and protections as humans.

The series is an acknowledgment of the contradictions, the unresolved and intricate borderlands shared by humans and non-humans. Irrespective of our own biases, within every interaction and encounter, there deserves to be a deeper understanding of our obligations and our impact on the lives of animals; who by definition share our ability to perceive and respond to complex sensations and emotions: sight, touch, smell, but also joy, fear, and suffering. Engaging deeply with the world and with other sentient beings brings purpose and meaning to our lives.

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  • The wolves that I met in shelters were traumatized by neglect and abuse before they were rescued. This white wolf was said to be fearful of the wind. In photographing them, I recognized an inherent hesitation between man and wolf and yet there was a bond they shared. Like us, wolves are pack animals with a social hierarchy. Although they are timid beings, they also have a curious nature. It was evident that they were able to apply that ability to connect with their caretakers. This interaction suggests that they both want something from one another.

  • I immersed myself in the strange world of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. This image was made at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland Florida of a juvenile bald eagle under their care. We stare back at one another in this picture and he seems to ask something of me that I can only hope to understand. The juxtaposition of the majestic characteristics of the bird in captivity is a harsh reality, which underscores his separation from the natural world.

  • This image was made of a girl in the 4-H Program at the Volusia County Fair in Deland Florida. Grounded in an agrarian family tradition, 4-H is a national youth-development and mentoring organization with the idea of instilling responsibility and preparing children for the realities of adulthood. Children are taught to raise livestock to compete for showmanship ribbons at county fairs, knowing their animals will be sent to slaughter on Auction Night. The children naturally form very close bonds with their animals while maintaining a profound acceptance for their fate. The images capture the confusion experienced by both child and animal on their last day together.

  • Jody from “Animal Adventures”, a “backyard” sanctuary based out of Okeechobee Florida, is depicted selling encounters to “play and pet” a tiger cub named Dahlia for $25.00 at the Daytona Beach Boardwalk and Amusement Area in Florida. The encounter was located between a loud “Slingshot” ride and roller coaster, where Dahlia was made to pose for pictures with paying customers well into the night for a week under the stressful conditions. The appeal and accessibility of cub encounters are rarely scrutinized. The image represents the fine line between adoration and exploitation. It is illegal to sell encounters with big cats after they are 40 lbs under Florida law. The 5-month-old cub was determined by a rescue group to be above the weight limit which poses a danger for her as well as the public.

  • Volunteer caretaker, Shana, at Journey’s End Animal Sanctuary in Deland Florida, is depicted tenderly bathing the rescued dog Lily that is paralyzed due to a blood born parasite. This is a relationship of trust and love. Shana bathed Lily like this every day until Lily’s passing at 12 years of age.

  • Three owls scrutinize me as I enter their enclosure. Unable to be freed,
    the birds that survive live out their lives in captivity and must adapt to their man-made surroundings. Imprinted birds displayed learned behaviors and an affinity for their caretakers.

  • Lead veterinary technician at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland Florida holds one of her patients, an injured osprey. The bird wears a hood over his eyes to keep him calm while he is examined. There is a delicate harmony at stake in the encounters as it is traumatic for the birds to be taken out of their natural environments. Conflict is found in efforts to remain at a distance, which is not only humane but also essential to the animal’s survival. The image depicts that blend of altruism and clinical detachment.

  • Florence Thout, founder of Journey’s End, converted her home in 1974 into a sanctuary dedicated to life-long care and shelter for dogs, cats, horses, pigs, sheep, and birds that have been abused, neglected or have special needs and medical conditions. Prior Florence worked as an animal cruelty investigator for the Volusia County Sheriff's Department and began her compassionate endeavors by bringing home some of the most needy animals. Her selflessness drives her although it weighs heavily on her as her home is overrun with animals. She does not adopt them out. This is a place for the animals to live out their lives. All that she has to give emotionally, her home, her time, her entire life and being is dedicated to these creatures.

  • Two Alaskan Grizzly bears from the traveling show, "A Grizzly Experience", wrestle in their enclosure as spectators observe them in close proximity.

  • A young girl in the 4-H Program prepares to exhibit her ewe at the
    Volusia County Fair. The children are dedicated to the care of their animals, as they anticipate
    placing well and taking home a ribbon and a cash prize. I observed paradoxes while capturing the relationships children in the 4-H Program have with their animals: a collision of sadness and vulnerability, pride and accomplishment.

  • A rehabber beckons to an animal assumed to be inside the wooden enclosure, breaking that clinical detachment just for a moment. The capturers become the captured as they are bound by their commitments to preserve and protect the health of debilitated, abused and neglected animals.

  • David with “Brian Staple’s Traveling Safari” is pictured between performances embracing his lion cub in a wooded area in Savannah Georgia. The image symbolizes a reverence for the wild and desire to cohabitate. What appears as an embrace is subverted by the upward gaze of the cub. Dependent on the young man, cradled by the limbs of the tree both are vulnerable of falling. Crossing boundaries when hugging a big cat, is feeding the consumerism of exotic animals, keeping them from the natural world. Wild animals become a kind of hybrid. They are no longer able to survive in the wild and must adapt to captivity.

  • The proprietor of the traveling show "A Grizzly Experience", is depicted between performances holding the hand of his son through the fence where he sits with his Alaskan Grizzly bear family at the Volusia County Fair in Deland Florida. The image addresses the dichotomous human-animal bond and the ill-defined slippery notion of boundaries.

  • This is the last phase of rehabilitation for birds of prey in order for them to prove their ability to fly distances and show that they can hunt independently to ensure their safe return to the wild. This dramatic fortress stands as a barrier between the bird and the outside world, with the space almost consuming him as he seeks to reenter the wild.

  • The taxidermist named Kyle holds the torso of an alligator that he is in the process of converting into taxidermy at “Quality Taxidermy” in Deland Florida. There is uncertainly, sadness or exhaustion in his eyes. The care the taxidermist takes when meticulously crafting keepsakes from hunted animals is a form of preserving the living.

  • An osprey being remade into taxidermy to resemble what he would look like in flight. The cotton flowing from beneath him is suggestive of clouds. I was informed by the owner that this was a very special piece because it was commissioned by a museum.

  • A caretaker stands before his favorite cougar at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa Florida, one of the largest accredited sanctuaries in the country dedicated entirely to abused and abandoned big cats. The enclosure blends almost seamlessly into the landscape suggesting the vulnerability of the man as he stands close to the cougar. The sheers he holds suggest escape, release, danger blended with the desire to be closer to the wild creature.

  • A young boy in the 4-H Program pauses lost in reflection with the steer he raised from birth. Children mature quickly because they form very close bonds with their animals despite knowing that they will send them to slaughter that night. These young people are courageously attempting to reconcile two widely divergent concepts; love and loss. I aim to capture this emotional turmoil as their attention turns inward on “auction night” and the reality of parting with their animals weighs heavily on them.

  • The glass box in this image is used as a transport carrier for tigers owned by a married couple in Mims Florida. They provide the best life possible for their tigers which they rescued and raised from cubs. Although, caring for these animals comes at a large cost which they supplement with educational programs and the use of the glass box to showcase a tiger at a wealthy person’s party for pictures to be taken next to the animal. In order to provide proper enclosures, food, medical care, they must generate the funds. For this reason, I chose to make a picture of the tiger in the box. I gravitated towards relationships that I perceived as indefinable and complex, that speak to the intrinsic dilemma surrounding our ideals and reverence for wild nature as well as our inevitable interference that leaves both the animal and human caught in a vicious cycle.

  • A hunter hugs a deer head. We only see the man's back as the blank black eyes of a deer head stare back at us. The portrait is a symbol of the boundaries and belief systems that clash and overlap in society, one of these being that hunters have a closer relationship with nature then someone who turns a blind eye and buys their meat in a sanitized package in the supermarket because it is easier then killing and butchering it themselves.