Words by Alex Wood
Interview by Elizabeth Breiner
Photographs by Anne Lamb
Photographer Anne Lamb’s series Beefcakes entwines the female nude with the weathered, contoured forms of American show cattle. The contrast between these juxtaposed natural figures is enhanced by the neon lighting that at times seems to drench the images, disorientating the sense of time, place and genre. We are left with a set of loaded images imbued with the sense of their subjects as commodified objects; human and beast alike are lit seductively and enticingly, the aesthetic immediately reminiscent of fashion and its inseparable commerciality.
This neon allure, however, is little more than a façade, as further inspection reveals a hyper-real focus on rough textures and bodily blemishes, which comes to make the glamorous treatment of the subjects seem suddenly foreign and intrusive. Red and blue gels override the hardy tones of the American South, whilst the soft curves of the models’ forms appear as a foreign bodies against the veined, mud-splattered hides of the unenthused cattle. Similarly, the range of genres Lamb employs, specifically nature, portraiture and fashion, contradict one another by each warping or denying the key traits of the others. The work is at once playful and repellent to the viewer, both visually appealing and critically stunting. Lamb has created a body of images that offers several avenues of critique while forcing re-evaluation at every turn. Perhaps the impenetrable artifice of the work is indeed its true strength, and certainly its lingering message.
Elizabeth Breiner: Can you tell me a bit about your practice, what motivated you to create the work, and if you see it functioning as a type of self-portrait or portrait of the animals or something else entirely? How do the different types of portraiture communicate within the work?
Anne Lamb: I started working with cows because I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could apply the same kind of techniques and aesthetic to something other than a naked woman – because it’s pretty easy to make a beautiful picture of a naked woman. And then when I did that with these big, furry black cows, I felt pretty successful in the matter.
But then, I missed making erotic imagery – so I wanted to go back and see if I could kind of combine the two. I didn’t want to step backwards and do the same thing over again, but I also didn’t want to step away from it completely. That was the challenge when I went to photograph naked people with the cows.
Until I went back and made the video, I really didn’t feel like it was a successful – or at least that it was finished. I went back there a couple times, and every time it felt like I almost had it but it always felt a little like you’re getting half the story: Okay, something’s happening, something going on between these two characters, but I really didn’t know enough about the animal to feel like I understood what was going on – at least in the pictures. Now that I’ve recently made solo images of the animal upon returning to Texas, I feel like the story comes together for me better personally.
EB: So this particular project is part of your process of working through different types of combined images – and now you’ve gone back and done individual portraits of the cows and worked with them separately from the models?
AL: I actually went back and did individual portraits and a slow motion video – of their bodies, close-up, abstract, of the flaps under their bellies and details like that. And I did do portraits of them as well, and I ended up making videos of myself making the portraits of them, which turned out to be more interesting than I would have thought.
It’s become more about my objectification of the animal, as opposed to [the relationship you might find in a fashion setting] – because I use fashion lighting, fashion aesthetic, so usually the person on the other side of the camera is a fashion model who’s really willing to be there. Now I have this animal who’s really not happy to be there. He’s like, I will allow this for a few hours until I will push you over and step on your equipment.
So it’s a different dynamic. It’s definitely me exploiting the animals. Whereas, when I wrote about it [when I first published it], it was like, the animals get the short end of the stick; but really I’m doing the same thing to them, just in a way that looks like it’s something else. But it isn’t – I’m just kind of masking it in pretty lights. I’m still ruining his day and taking advantage of him.
EB: Do you find that the fragmented parts of the animal’s body fit aesthetically and conceptually with the fragmented parts of the nude women?
AL: They really do, actually. I started making collages between the two – I made a bunch of bodies and selected the woman from the shoots and then made a collection of female bodies, and then changed the texture and turned it into the animal. So that was my way of kind of seeing, really putting them into the same piece, making them the same shape, the same object – which I really liked.
EB: Is the model we see in the images all the same person?
AL: No, it’s three people; myself, the little girl and a girl with the long dark hair who was the cousin of a girl I had met. But most of them were me. I went back in November and I didn’t have any models then, so then did everything myself.
EB: That couldn’t have been easy, being on both sides given how unpredictable your other subjects were.
AL: Not really. Though, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. When I first went down there, I literally had the whole town – it was crazy. I had the woman who worked at the ranch, I had my assistant who was my boyfriend at the time, I had the models, and then I had random people who worked on the farm that brought lawn chairs and coolers of beers and just sat back and watched. We also had the guys who care for the bulls for the next shows. So each day we had between 9 and 12 people either involved or just around the shoot. But when I returned, I went back by myself and had no one else, and I though ‘how am I going to do this?’ But it ended up actually being easier, and I got better stuff.
EB: Would you consider this an ongoing project then?
AL: In a sense – I’ve finished shooting the project, but after I went back and made the video of the cows without female subjects, I do think it makes more sense, and I can talk about it in a more honest way. Before that, I didn’t feel like it was finished but I had to publish it, so I had to say something. I ended up picking the most logical thing, which was, “Yeah, women and animals are in the same pile of second class citizens”—which is an easy observation. A lot of people have written books about the bond between women and animals in terms of exploitation, but that wasn’t really why I did it. When you Google me, that’s what it says.
I also knew that’s what people kind of wanted to hear. Now, a year later I think, “Why did I do that?” At the same time, I got a lot of press, and I can always go back to those magazines again with my future work, but now I have to make something that I’m not, kind of, ashamed to talk about. I’m the one doing the objectification.
EB: What does it mean, then, to have a female photographer objectifying a cow?
AL: I know. The video was kind of funny; because you can see as the flashes are going off he’s more and more irritated as time goes on. I’m walking around in my underwear with all my gear like, “Hey, it’s cool” and trying to pet him, and then he tries to knock me over, and I’m like, relax, relax.
EB: I feel like in spite of your resistance to the female comparison, it’s a rather nice metaphor for the world of models…
AL: Exactly, because he also looks like a dinosaur. He’s so big, and I’m this skinny little thing… I look like a mess in the videos because I’m covered in dirt and it’s Texas, so it’s about a hundred degrees – it’d be funnier if I were all dolled up. But yes – things have definitely been turned around.
EB: So if you’re not aiming to show the cattle as these victims of consumption, how can we understand your bovine subjects? They become these quite mythical looking creatures when abstracted from the form that you expect them to take, both as a result of the closeness and the lighting…
AL: I feel like they’re a bit more – I fetishized them, because they are abnormal, but in a way I’ve taken them away from what they really are, which is show cattle, and [made them] appear as sexualized objects, which they’re not. So I feel like that is the more interesting part about it for me. They’re really not shown at all like they’re supposed to, as they would be.
“I fetishized them, because they are abnormal, but in a way I’ve taken them away from what they really are, which is show cattle, and [made them] appear as sexualized objects, which they’re not.”
The workers at the farms think the process is weird and gross, and they want me to shoot them typically – they have certain ways they pose them for showing off their attributes. The show cattle are usually angled a certain way to show off muscle or to show off their legs or ear length, the position of their legs… it’s very specific. So I’m ruining it for them, from their point of view. But in my opinion they are more beautiful like this. I’m just not following the rules.
Anne Lamb is an American artist. Her work uses the body to explore the complexity of human emotions and the continuous invisible transformations we experience, revealing them as grotesquely, erotic creatures. Through the assembling of skins, nonhuman animals, and brightly colored lights, Lamb creates a space where sexual anxiety, identity, objectification, and sensorial perceptions are explored. In this space built by performance, objectification, intimacy, and light, Lamb explores strangely erotic relationships which transport the audience to a altered world, jarred open by uncommon games. We step into a fragmented reality, populated by colorful distortions of the animal body. Anne Lamb graduated with a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2011, and is studying Media Design at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam. She has worked for artists such as Marilyn Minter, Elektra KB, and Ryan McGinley.
nineteensixtyeight presents a selection of 13 images from the series Beefcakes, available to buy in our shop.