Photographer Sharon Schafer is passionate about how people relate to animals.
In fact, her art, she says, is a “call to action.” She wants people to think about how humans, animals, and nature can co-exist.
Take us back – why did you originally choose animals to paint, draw, and photograph?
“I had always had an interest in animals and wildlife and I got a degree in wildlife biology. But I found whenever I went into the field to work, I always took my sketch book I always had my camera with me. I started seeing that in order to educate the public and really make some changes that by combining the science side of my brain and the art side of my brain, I could achieve what I wanted.”
Tell us how your photography and your painting are intertwined?
“For me it’s totally different, I started out doing photography so I could capture images that I could paint from. I wasn’t about to just grab stuff off the internet and paint from that. Plus, I wanted to see the animals and study them in their natural environment so I would go out and photograph. And when I’m painting it’s a really intimate experience because for two or three weeks I am studying this animal. I’m painting. I’m slowly building up the characteristics and the image that make it what it is.”
One photograph features two rams, up close. One of them appears to be looking right at the camera – right at us. There’s an intimacy. How do you capture these latest images?
“You have to be very lucky. That is one thing that when I started out on this project I wanted to show people images that they had never seen before. My goal was to produce something people hadn’t seen. Reveal it in a different way to them.”
Why did you give the photos an almost studio quality?
“I think I wanted to strip away all distractions. I wanted people to concentrate on the animal. And I also wanted to kind of represent that we have so often removed the habitat for the animal so it was a visual representation of that.”
Are you worried that people might see these, in a way, out of context? If there isn’t the context of wilderness and wild space.
“I am so worried about that because I think what I’m trying to do is offer some unusual discussion. What I’m hoping to do is start a conversation. I would love it if people walked through the show and kind of paused and read the descriptions on each of the images and then discussed it among themselves.”
Beginning Friday, her new photographs of wildlife will be on display at the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas. The exhibition is titled, "Becoming Animal: Standing Witness For The Sentient Wild."
“I was trying to represent how fragmented the habitat has become through human destruction of the habitat and altering the land. We have started chopping it up into smaller and smaller pieces and the native wildlife just needs the room.”
"At the end of the show, we have kind of a call to action where [those attending the exhibition] can literally take a piece off the wall, there are some small six by seven photographs, they can take one off the wall but in turn they have to leave me promise of something they're going to do. So, we're calling it the promise wall."
Sharon Schafer, wildlife photographer and painter
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