Catherine Chalmers: the food chain is not a Hallmark card

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Pinkies
from Food Chain: Encounters Between Mates, Predators and Prey by Catherine Chalmers

Photographer Catherine Chalmers (who may be best known in biology circles for her portraits of genetically modified mice) goes beyond brutal accuracy in her animal photography. Food Chain: Encounters Between Mates, Predators and Prey is a book of photos depicting predatory insects, frogs, and snakes devouring their living meals - including naked, squirming baby mice (above). It's no more than honest about what animals do and eat (yes, "cute" frogs will eat baby mice). But Chalmers' ordering and staging shamelessly invokes our empathy - prefacing the often-messy gluttony with a portrait of a mother mouse nursing her litter, or a courtship dance, or a cute mantis sitting on a frog's head - gives her punchline extra force.

That cute mantis tilting his head at you? Watch his frog buddy gulp him down. What did you expect? The food chain isn't a Hallmark card!

It's the same anthropomorphic trigger Chalmers pulls in her execution series, where cockroaches are hung by tiny nooses, electrocuted on chairs and tables, and burnt at the stake. Can killing a cockroach in the way a human might be killed, as opposed to stepping on it or blasting it with bug spray, endow vermin with an anthropomorphic pathos? And if you find these photos disturbing, why? Is it because they somehow diminish human death, and/or because they give insect death more weight than it "deserves"?

All in all, a fascinating book. Read an interview with Chalmers from Food Chain here.

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