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June/July 2007
Altered Reality
The Satya Interview with Jayne Hinds Bidaut


Lizzie the iguana.
©Jayne Hinds Bidaut/2007/ usa212.802.7670

Jayne Hinds Bidaut is a fine art photographer native to Texas who lived and worked in France for several years. In the early 1990s she moved to New York City where she is currently based. Jayne is well known for rediscovering and mastering the early photographic process of the tintype. To date she has published two books, Tintypes and Animalerie (featured in Satya, May 2005). Her work is widely exhibited and collected internationally by museums and corporate and private collections.

Jayne is also the director of The Kageno Kids Art and Cultural Exchange, an outreach program of Kageno Worldwide, an international not-for-profit community development organization currently operating in Kenya and Rwanda. Kageno Kids is their multifaceted creative educational program focusing on the children in these poverty stricken areas and in local communities in the U.S.

Jayne resides with and cares for Lizzie, an 11 year-old male iguana she rescued from a boy who was “upgrading” to a python and keeping Lizzie in a Tupperware container. Lizzie and Jayne met nine years ago at a herpetological show while shooting her Animalerie series. Although Jayne had never thought about taking in an iguana, today she can’t imagine her life without him.

Satya consulting editor Rachel Cernansky visited Jayne Hinds Bidaut’s NYC studio in April to chat with her about some of the things that inspire and motivate her work, about perception and animals, and what Lizzie has been able to teach her.

You seem to appreciate what is not automatically visible to the eye.
Yes, I do seem to always focus on the unseen or forgotten. This is instinctual and I see now I have done this from an early age…automatically looking behind the veil of our perception. Even when my work appears familiar and looks simple, it is actually symbolic and ingrained with personal meaning. I sometimes use skeletons and things that typically represent death, but they represent the subconscious for me. I believe your subconscious is guiding you and is an integral part of your waking day. You don’t acknowledge it, don’t realize it—you take it for granted. It is supporting you, guiding how you maneuver through your environment and is giving shape to your entire being.

Insects are very meaningful, in this aspect, for me as well. They are a metaphor for the psychological growth that we go through, the stages that are unseen and we must pass through in order to grow—our metamorphosis. We are actually born nymphs when you think about it! Then as we grow, we shed our mind’s skin, leaving behind our old selves at each stage.

Do any of the other animals in your art carry a similar symbolism for you?
Yes, but they are also very respectful and about their personal unseen story and voice. Before Animalerie, I was working on “Après le Marche” [after the market] in Paris. On market days, people come from their farms to sell an unbelievable assortment of very fresh produce [and animal products], and when they leave it feels something like the brief time just after a ticker tape parade, when everyone is gone and you are alone walking knee-deep in shredded paper. This same transient time, right after the market venders left, was a very intense and eerie time and place for me. Discarded and forgotten bits were strewn about the ground, things that we deem unimportant, just trash—but they were body parts…chicken heads, chicken feet, baby chicks with their heads torn off, prawn tails, fish tails, fish heads, fish gills, and random eyeballs. It’s all these parts that the organism valued and needed in order to live. And people, in an instant, just cut these off to leave behind, not even thinking about it.

I’d photograph these things while the street sweepers would come with their plastic brooms and water and brush it all away. I would go from market to market photographing, voyeuristically, these things of no value that were now only precious to me. I wouldn’t touch or move or manipulate anything while photographing. These were my little Flemish still-lifes that were fit to hang in the finest museums.

This ant and leaf hopper colony live a symbiotic existence. ©Jayne Hinds Bidaut/2007/ usa212.802.7670

How did Animalerie get started?
I started this body of work in France—the title is Animalerie, which is French and simply translates into “animal shop.” The images in Animaleriewere taken in pet shops all over the U.S. and in Europe over a period of three years. From the beginning I did not call it “Pet Shop” because people would come to the work thinking that they already knew what it was about…therefore going away gaining nothing from it. The photos are purposefully made to first beguile and draw the viewer in with photographically interesting and beautiful pictures. After they are deemed valid and worthy to squander time looking at, the viewer is already there and connected, and can then realize what they are seeing.

With Animalerie, I wanted to reach an audience that might not normally think about these issues. My way of reaching people tends to be through the back door, entering directly into the subconscious, letting it take hold, then one day hopefully it surfaces…and if it never does, then at least you have communicated to their subconscious. This is what I believe art does: really strong, purposeful, timeless, meaningful art, communicated from soul to soul.

The initial conceptual and continual driving force behind Animalerie was to show these animals as commodities. I began photographing the animals in their containers/cages showing hints and bits of their captivity. Then the lizards, snakes, fish and mice themselves began to draw me in and actually show me their individual realities and the life they were somehow managing to have in these detached and unnatural worlds. The pity and anxiety I had for them quickly grew into an even greater respect and admiration than I had before. The images began to capture their strength, beauty and dignity. The photographs became quiet and poignant portraits of each individual. For me they carried the strength of a whisper.

Now, Animalerie is also a memorial to these animals in the pet trade. Most were dead by the time I printed their images. I have never really understood how we could place a monetary value on other beautiful creatures and choose to look at these living beings as inanimate objects and treat them as such, within animal-based industries. These images for me are truly sublime…so horrific, yet so beautiful. Literally “a bird in a gilded cage.”

Like the stuff in the street?
Yes! The sublimely beautiful. It’s our relationship to and how we interact with the environment and other species that I am drawn to. It is at those moments when I let myself see what we are conditioned not to see, that I see “absolute truths.” It is horrific what I see, yet beautiful to me that I am in this conscious state.

It’s always befuddled me, how we (humans) relate to the environment and all the beings in it, including each other. What we choose to value and what we choose to discard. When I was still quite young I figured out where meat came from, I think I then entered a state of shock that I just might still be in—I couldn’t have ever even begun to imagine it came from animals. My protector as a newborn was my mother’s aging dog. My best friend growing up was my dog.

Where does the altered reality that you mentioned come into play?
In order to perceive the things around us, we as a species seem to have to conquer, dissect, label and categorize to be able to process something so that we are able to feel like we understand it. We now have so much information around us that we are overloaded and keep ourselves so busy processing this information, that we do not have time to think about other beings’ perceptions and realities. Our reality is just a perspective and perception that we have because of the sensory organs we possess… Living with Lizzie has taught me to see other worlds. He lives in another time; he is diurnal and guided by the cycle of the sun. Every now and then, we connect—our perceptions, our realities cross. But normally, he’s living in his time and I’m living in my time, while just being aware of each other…and connected.

So through Lizzie’s teaching, I was able to cross into other worlds as he gave me a special stepping-stone. This was the world of the bleeding, breathing, mating, hunting, house building, nymph rearing, weaving, mimicking, dying, eating, egg-laying, live birthing, parasitizing, flying, jumping and living world of the insect.

When I am visiting there I am able to witness and photograph, very intimately, the little lost stories and lives of living insects. And even though each species perceives its environment differently, they all possess a beautiful symbiotic existence with their environment. Over and over again, I am constantly shown the natural rhythm of life that I believe I was missing and desperately searching for my entire life.

All of your work is so personal. You seem able to encapsulate thoughts that most people do not even recognize as thoughts.
The difference between an insane person and an artist is that an insane person can’t come back from that other perception, that other reality. An artist can go to the other side and actually bring back something, bring back proof—I go there often.

A piece of art to me is an actual souvenir, which says, See—I was in this special place, and I brought this back, this is the proof… And guess what. Our conscious and perceived world is not the only reality out there. That is what I have come to know I do with my work. I didn’t realize this years ago. But now I do.

It seems most people are scared to find the answers to their questions. But if you have your art, you can deal with these questions and things deep inside that you do not even have words for, things you do not recognize in your conscious state. But you can use your art as your stepping-stone, and stepping-back stone…I’ve kept a direct dialogue with my subconscious through my art. This tracking of my past allows me to grow. All my art is actually my little breadcrumb path back to the way I was before…before the shedding of all my skins.

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