Shooting animals is one of the toughest assignments a photographer can get. For Tim Flach, however, it is not only a full-time profession, but also a creative expression and a forum for debate.
The extraordinary thing about Tim’s images is how they make you think and feel in equal measure. He is rarely as interested in explaining things as he is eager to ask questions, and the animals he depicts usually come across as both wild and strangely humanlike.
“I suppose humans don’t tend to pee or shit in the studio quite so often,” says Tim. “But when it comes to lighting the set and stylizing the picture, I often use the same methods as any portrait photographer would. I’m interested in the human aspect and the human space that animals occupy. That’s why.”
Is it hard to shoot animals without getting too cute?
“Cuteness is part of domestication. We breed dogs to be cute. Like the pugs – we made them flattering by looking infantile. It’s been proven now that the part of the brain that shows activity when we look at a puppy is the same as when we look at a human baby. I want to discuss this, so in a way I use cuteness and clichés to make the viewer reflect on how these mechanisms work on us.”
But sometimes it feels as if your try to do the opposite – make the familiar unfamiliar?
“Well, sometimes I focus on just a single shape or pattern, but I think it’s usually clear what it comes from. Let’s say I take a close up of the neck of a horse so that it looks like a ski slope – it allows you to find new associations. Like Mies van de Roe said: less is more. The familiar horse neck engages you in the essentiality of the subject, but since it doesn’t show the entirety of it, it leaves your mind to fill in the rest. It can wander off to your ski holiday or whatever it may be. I think that’s an interesting sort of poetic space.”
Even though many animals can be brought to the studio, Tim prefers to capture them in their natural habitat. To start with, it makes for better results. But what is more important is that Tim is anxious to not bother the animal any more than is necessary.
“I have to respect the animal. I can’t pressurize them at all.”
What equipment do you use when you’re out in the wild?
“Profoto is my preferred kit on location. Whenever you see a picture I’ve taken outside, that’s what I’ve used. I started out with the Pro-7b about eight or ten years ago and since then I’ve just updated myself. Today we use Pro-B3’s and Acute B2’s. We also tend to gel the lights, to balance it with the natural light.”
How come? What is it that you demand from your equipment?
“First and foremost, I need the flash to go off. I need reliability. You don’t really notice if a flash doesn’t go off when you’re outside. But the new Profoto Air Sync is much, much more reliable than anything else I’ve tried, and we get so many more flashes from the packs now. It’s all going in the right direction. It’s getting easier and easier. Soon, even the monkeys will be able to take great pictures.”
But then you’ll be out of work..?
“Right. Hopefully they’re a little slow on the more philosophical aspect of photography, and I’ll be able to continue.”
Written by Fredrik Franzén
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