Yana Wernicke’s photographs show the unique company of animals

Can humans and other animals really be companions? Our dogs don’t understand where their food comes from and why we take them to the vet. Our cats don’t know where we go during the day (and vice versa). We have no idea what it would be like to see the world as a cow or a crow. There are gulfs of power and incomprehension.

Yana Wernicke’s work reminds us that compassion can cross these divides. His photo book without text, simply titled Comrades, reveals the touch of a pig’s ear on a human leg, the tightness of a cow’s belly, the feeling of shared existence under the trees. We see animals that were bred to be killed, but their emotional and physical existence has now implanted itself into human life.

© Yana Wernicke

© Yana Wernicke

Wernicke, 32, is influenced by the work of art critic John Berger, who argued that humans have become increasingly distant from other species, yet long for contact with them. The photos show Julie and Rosina, two German women, as well as some cows and pigs rescued in various locations in Germany. Interracial tenderness is so unknown it almost seems like a magic trick.

“I was really intrigued by this aspect of touching animals and how animals give back. Of course we humans touch it with our hands, but it was interesting to see how a cow touches it back,” says Wernicke. “There’s a lot of tilt and it opens up vulnerable areas of the body.”

Saving animals is a commitment, changing our lifestyle. But if we’re just talking about the company, it’s activism. This was true when the aptly named Elliot Katz founded the charity In Defense of Animals in San Francisco in 1983, campaigning for pets to be referred to as “companion animals”.

© Yana Wernicke

Katz trained as a veterinarian at Cornell and was nearly kicked out for refusing to perform hands-on surgeries on live dogs. During the campaign, he sometimes settled for calling people “pet watchers” as a compromise. He argued that animals should not be seen simply as property, but as sentient beings with needs of their own. When that happened, he believed, fewer were dumped by their “owners” and fewer ended up in shelters.

Katz, who died in 2021, achieved success in California, although many animal lovers today prefer to refer to themselves as “parents” of cats and dogs. This term does not go far in recognizing the right of animals to autonomy. . Legal systems are still struggling with how to deal with subjects that are neither objects nor people.

© Yana Wernicke

© Yana Wernicke

Creating companionship with animals is a more difficult task. Berger himself romanticized how peasants kept and slaughtered pigs in the French Alps. Most of us who live in cities are not used to seeing or touching animals. We assume that pigs and cows are dirty, rough, unkempt. We don’t want to get our clothes dirty, expose ourselves to kicks in the ribs, or break the norms of behavior. Close observation can change this perspective. “I saw a lot of similarities with my dog,” says Wernicke. “I wanted to show that there isn’t that much of a difference.”

He had previously investigated the German colonization of Cameroon and led him to the collections of dead animals in German museum archives. Under the influence of the philosopher Vilém Flusser, he also tried to follow the animals in the Italian Alps – donkeys, wolves, cats – they lead them, and thus rewrote his own path.

© Yana Wernicke

Even in cities, away from farms and wolves, we have a chance for company. When I’m at home working on my computer, my cat often jumps up to the desk and nestles between my forearms. When I walk outside, I often meet the eyes of squirrels and foxes. No matter how different our experiences, we spend time together—and that act forms the foundation of companionship. Sometimes we feel lonely even when we are surrounded by other people. The company of other animals – foxes, frogs, even pigeons – is an antidote.

Comrades it encourages us to draw parallels between our bodies and the bodies of the animals we eat. He asks us why we can’t get closer to other species. Would it be so inappropriate to touch their skin, to get our feet dirty in the mud? Yes and no. We are not the saviors, Julie and Rosina, but perhaps we long to be.

Henry Mance is the FT’s chief writer and “How to love animals‘. ‘ComradesPublished this month by Loose Joints

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Source: https://www.ft.com/content/ab0298d6-9862-48ef-8997-27097a797d36

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