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TMN: Your animals seem very unlucky to have been born on the same planet as humans. I take it you’re not a hunter? Is the series politically motivated?

MM: No, I’m not a hunter! Originally, the work was not at all politically motivated, though now I think there is a political resonance that I’m beginning to give some weight to. But, I’m not trying to make any sweeping statements or accusations, and I’m not against hunting. However, it strikes me as a cruel circumstance oftentimes for the animal, and particularly for the ones killed just for sport. They are often at an incredible disadvantage when it comes to human tactics and technologies. The same goes for road kill—the speeding cars are beyond the comprehension of most. Just the mention of road kill generally conjures chuckles from humans, which I think of as most likely a nervous acknowledgement of the obvious imbalance.

TMN: Most of the animals you photograph are dead. I get a sense of poetry from the images—a sense of eulogy—but there’s also a strong sense of some colder documentation, of recording the hand of bad luck or inevitability (fate?) in their deaths. Am I way off the mark?

MM: Actually, you are very close to the mark. I think of these images as poems about mortality. They are my impressions and responses to the living and dying I see all around in the everyday world. Some are not so lucky. I feel sympathy for them and think of them as innocents.

TMN: You mentioned to me that this is your third time shooting the Coyote Derby. What is it?

MM: A Coyote Derby is a hunting tournament. Participants pay a fee, which goes into a pool for the expenses of running the event and towards prize money. The hunter who brings in the heaviest coyote wins, and oftentimes the money is divvied up among first-, second-, and third-place prizes. They are only one example of the many different hunting competitions that exist in this country. For me, one of the more surreal aspects of coyote hunting is that they are often hunted with hounds.

TMN: In our kingdom, I’m pretty sure it’s only humans who bury their dead. When photographing animals, do you find yourself anthropomorphizing your subjects? Do you mourn them?

MM: I’d say in most cases I am anthropomorphizing the animals I photograph. I have experienced very strong emotional bonds with some animals, and this informs my relationships to all of them in some way or another. Perhaps we are not as far removed from the animals as we would like to think. For instance, many animals express fear and grief in ways that are very familiar to most people. Also, we know animals, including fish, feel pain and respond in ways that are also familiar to us. Often, in photographing the animals, I have thought of man’s cruelty and indifference, not only towards the other creatures but also towards other human beings. Photographs by James Nachtwey and Don McCullin (two war photographers whose work I admire) in particular kept surfacing in my mind one year while I was shooting the Coyote Derby. The Iraq War had begun only days earlier. It was early Spring 2003. There was an eerie and persistent connection in what was happening just down the road from my house and what was going on in Iraq. It’s 2006, the third-year anniversary of the invasion and the third year of photographing at the derby. For me the parallels are still relevant. The grief I feel for the animals is intertwined with a distress regarding the folly of humans.
 

biopic

Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. He is the author of three books, including his latest novel The Last Kid Left (NPR’s Best Books of the Year). His nonfiction appears in a variety of magazines, mostly GQ. More information can be found at rosecransbaldwin.com. More by Rosecrans Baldwin