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WOLF + Shoebill © Copyright Peter Suschiktzy

WOLF + Shoebill © Copyright Peter Suschiktzy

Animal Logic: is this my best side?

Walking down Norman Road, HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths stopped in her tracks to look at Guy the Gorilla staring out through the bars of his cage. Just as when Guy was alive he attracted attention, so he does in this photography exhibition,  Animal Logic. There are many excellent wildlife photographers but Austrian photographer, Wolfgang Suschitzky, is somewhat different.

This is definitely wildlife, although the photos have been taken at London or Whipsnade Zoo, but these are portraits. There is a humanity about the images. Wolfgang hasn’t anthropomorphised the birds and beasts, he has taken them as seriously as he would a human sitter; patiently observing them, getting to know them while waiting for the right light, angle and composition.

Wolfgang has given them respect, patience and dignity. And they in turn have given him their portrait.

“I was one of the first to take animal portraits – not straight zoological pictures, but close-ups of faces. You need a lot of patience to wait for the right attitude and position.”

Entering the gallery, the first thing that strikes me are the eyes. Beady, birds’ eyes with their unblinking, direct focus. And as I look around I cannot help but be entranced by the animals. There is the haughtiness of a giraffe, tempered by a small bird snuggled into its neck; a sea lion blissfully poised, body descending into the water. It is the absolute embodiment of mindfulness, eyes closed, peaceful, living in and loving the moment. You can almost hear the snores from a Vietnamese domestic pig, his double chin resting on his trotters.

The details are amazing – you can see individual eye lashes, the texture and hair of  pig’s skin, the fluffy topknot of a yawning stork.

Guy the Gorilla © Wolf Suschitzky

Guy the Gorilla © Wolf Suschitzky

It is apt that Guy the Gorilla is the headline photograph. A mellow beast,  loved during his time at London Zoo and much mourned when he died. He was an intelligent ape, curious and gentle – you can see it in his eyes. He, apparently, was tender with birds that occasionally flew into his cage; he’d catch them, put them carefully on his great paw and seem to examine them.

Also said of Wolfgang is that he is a gentle soul. He started as a news photographer. Not cut out for the elbow-sharpening cut-and-thrust of news photography, he opted for portraits and cinematography, working  on films like Get Carter, Living Free, Ring of Bright Water and The Bespoke Overcoat. He also pursued his great love of animals in photography.

In the book Films: Wolfgang Suschitzky, Mike Hodges, director of Get Carter, said of Wolfgang, “Honest. Straightforward. The antithesis of pushy. That’s Wolf.”

Over his seven-decade career his work has been exhibited internationally; however, this is the first time his animal portraits have been exhibited. He was hoping to visit St Leonards for the opening of Animal Logic, but, at the age of 103, he had a good excuse. It was sad though not to have met him and for him not to see his own exhibition.

Animal Logic is at Lucy Bell Gallery, 46 Norman Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, TN38 0EJ until July 30.  Open Tuesday – Saturday 11am-4pm or by appointment.

 

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Posted 16:04 Friday, Jul 1, 2016 In: Photography

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