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Best Books - Book Reviews: Animal Farm

Animal Farm. Photographs by Daniel Naude.
Prestel, 2012.
Animal Farm
Reviewed by Adam Bell

Animal Farm
Photographs by Daniel Naude.

Prestel, Lakewood, 2012. Hardbound. 112 pp., 50 color illustrations, 9-1/2x11-1/2".

Although seemingly self-evident, the domestication of wild animals was central to our survival as a species and development of modern civilization. Despite its long history and importance, this axiom is often forgotten as all but a few animals have disappeared from most of our daily lives. Each species varies, but dogs were gradually domesticated roughly 15,000 years ago. Biologist Raymond Coppinger argues that it is likely dogs were domesticated through a variety of factors – namely their attraction to the refuse discarded from early agricultural settlements, their subsequent close proximity to humans, the slow persistent push of evolution, and human's desire for animal companionship. Daniel Naude's Animal Farm is a portrait of the animals and landscape of the South African farm, but it is also a larger exploration of the domestication of animals – whether they are sheep, cows, donkeys or dogs – and the fragile bonds that draw man and animal together.

The book begins with a pair of images of a bull carcass at various states of decay. Beginning with a corpse, the images are a reminder of how precarious life is on the farm and in the wild. Animals die, are left behind, slaughtered and left to provide nourishment for scavengers. After a few landscapes, Naude slowly introduces bulls, cows and sheep in groups. Shot against the beautiful South African landscape, each animal stands serenely at attention under Naude's compassionate gaze. Naude's frequent use of a fill-flash accentuates the animal's bemused and rigid appearance before the camera. In one humorous example, a giant bull nonchalantly urinates on the ground – defiantly resisting Naude's photograph.

Animal Farm, by Daniel Naude. Published by Prestel, 2012.
Interspersed throughout the animals are landscapes, the men and women who live in this landscape, taxidermy animals, a few interiors, animal carcasses, plants and several distant rainbows. Among the most striking images are the numerous portraits of men and women either posing with their pets, recent kills or farm animals. In the most notable, a large man sits outside cradling a tiny meerkat in his corpulent arms, a short man barely holds a newborn donkey whose gangly frame almost dwarfs the man, and a man sits astride an ostrich with a hood over its head. Whereas the numerous animal portraits seem to suggest the more typical domesticated animals (cows, sheep or horses), the images of exotic pets point to the fringes of domestication.

Animal Farm, by Daniel Naude. Published by Prestel, 2012.
Animal Farm, by Daniel Naude. Published by Prestel, 2012.
While there is a wide range of animals and subjects, the heart of Naude's book are the dogs. Mangy, feral and elegant, the wild dogs are woven throughout the book and provide a counterpoint to the domesticated animals. Resembling whippets, they are also the most striking subject and images in the book. From the proud and elegant dog that graces the cover to a skittish nervous dog encountered in the book, the dogs exhibit a variety of emotions that are compelling and engrossing. As a counter-point to the domesticated life of the farm and a thread that ties the work together, the dogs are the wild underbelly of the natural world, nipping at the heels of the calm farm. They remind us how close we are to becoming feral and how tenuous the boundaries are between the wild and tame.

Animal Farm, by Daniel Naude. Published by Prestel, 2012.
Animal Farm, by Daniel Naude. Published by Prestel, 2012.
While the dogs may steal the show, Naude has created a sophisticated and nuanced portrait of the South African farm and its animals that also tells a larger story about our relationship with animals – the ones we tame, the ones we kill and the ones who refuse our persistent overtures.—ADAM BELL

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2012 by Martin Parr.

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ADAM BELL is a photographer and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and his work has been exhibited and published internationally. He is the co-editor and co-author, with Charles H. Traub and Steve Heller, of The Education of a Photographer (Allworth Press, 2006). His writing has appeared in Foam Magazine, Afterimage, Lay Flat and Ahorn Magazine. He is currently on staff and faculty at the School of Visual Arts' MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department. His website and blog are and