Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Beauty Beyond Death

When we think of death it conjures up all kinds of emotions and feelings.  The loss of a friend or family member even a beloved pet are the most common recollections obviously.  Death is usually not associated with Beauty is it?

Dead Pigeon - ©Spencer Gordon

I was inspired to start this "Death " series after completing a job for Barefoot Wines in Asbury Park, NJ.  You may be thinking what could have possibly happened on the job that was so morbid.  In fact it was quite the opposite.  The short story is I was documenting Barefoot Wine's beach clean up  event.  They organize a bunch of volunteers to help clean up the beaches and then afterwards Barefoot Wines puts on a concert for the volunteers.  This concert had Gavin DeGraw, Joss Stone, The Cold War Kids and Mason Jennings….. shoot I said I'd kept this short.  Anyway the night before the beach clean up was an intense hurricane.  When the morning came I went out into the gray cold day to document the 'before' situation of the beach.  Over by a jetty in the flat wet sand I noticed and unusual object. Obviously not a man made piece of trash as I'm hovering taking in this out of place creature. A lone pelican was partially embedded in the cold smooth salt soaked sand with it's wings spread out creating the shape of a "W".  At first I was repulsed due to just thought of death. Then a saddened emotion came over me for the pelican because it must have struggled so hard to try to reach safety before exhaustion got the best of him finally succumbing to the hurricane's winds. I stood in silence just staring almost frozen in time until a gentle bit a of a wave washed over the Pelican snapping me out of my mesmerized state. Finally I noticed how beautiful the Pelican looked against the rich brown sand. The feathers of the bird were multiple hues of brown that complimented the Pelican's final resting spot in the saturated earth tone sand.

[gallery type="rectangular" ids="3335,3333,3338,3332,3336,3337,3334"]

Once back in NY I kept stumbling upon dead rats, pigeons and mice.  When photographing each scene I generally do one shot directly above the subject.  Sometimes the elements in the street adds to the graphic nature of the image.  I do take photographs from various angles as well never manipulating the arrangement of the dead animal. Although others there before me may have laid a flower next to the deceased.  One time walking down a busy street in New York I noticed someone had laid their parakeet on the step in front of their shop.   The shop person even maid a little tomb stone with R.I.P. Larry.  As if to let the neighborhood know of Larry's wake.

In addition I even take video.  Why?  Because there are usually flies and ants working diligently on the decomposing carcass.  Or the wind is blowing the feathers ever so gently and that does not translate in still photographs.

I regretfully did not photograph two animals this year.  One was a cat by the side of the road. I realized that as the animal gets closer to a familiarity it is harder to document the death.  I can't imagine what I'll do when I find a dog.  I'm such a huge dog lover.  Saying that though my artist friend Ruben Marroquin and I were talking about the cat situation and I told him I felt horrible.  Ruben says to me… "Yes it is a sad situation. But taking the photo immortalizes the animal giving them an extended existence in the art."  Which made me feel better and gave me a new purpose to photograph the dead animals.  The second animal that I missed photographing was while I was in Denver, Co.  We were traveling down the highway and traffic slowed to about 40 mph.  In between two lanes almost as if he was taking a nap was a young black bear.  He obviously had been struck by a vehicle which gashed his side and literally removed a vital organ as if it had been surgically removed.  This pink bear part laid just a few feet away.  I did not photograph the bear due to the dangerous situation.  There was no place to pull off on the mountain road and if I had tried I may have ended up just like that bear.  I just remember so well how shiny and luxurious the black bear's fur looked in the full sunlight.  The hair shifted softly side to side with each passing car swerving to miss hitting the bear yet another time.

As I shoot the Death series the beauty stands out more and more.  The detail in the feathers, the graphic contrast of the fresh meat against the dark pavement, the colors of the fur working with the elements of city street markings.  The beauty is there in every photograph I see it now, I just had to look past the death.


Spencer Gordon has built quite a collection of the "Beauty Beyond Death" and is currently working on a gallery show to present this body of work.

Contact Spencer today if your gallery may be interested in exhibiting this artwork.