A Feast for the Beasts

Claire Rosen: 'We may have more in common with non-human animals than we admit.'

Asked to create a set piece for a chandelier designer on location at a hog farm in the UK, artist Claire Rosen struck upon what she admits was a bit of a “macabre” idea — why not create a The Last Supper-like tableaux featuring the pigs? So she set up a long, low table in the barn with two chandeliers hanging above, laid out servings of frosted donuts and pies, positioned her camera and lighting equipment, and invited the pigs to partake.

The animals didn’t behave quite as she expected. As in, they didn’t stomp about and make a mess of the food. Instead, “they finished whole donuts and gently moved to the next one,” recalls the American fine-art photographer. “I was really moved by their personalities.” The final image, The Pig Feast, with its dark setting and 11 brown pigs around the table, is reminiscent of a Renaissance-style banquet scene.

Learn more about Claire Rosen’s work at www.claire-rosen.com

That 2010 assignment eventually sparked the idea of Fantastical Feasts — a series of panoramic photographs showing animals reveling around elaborate banquet tables. Creatively assembled and shot during Rosen’s extensive travels across the world, the series features creatures common and exotic, big and small, terrestrial and aquatic. There are elaborately-dressed camels munching vegetables in the Jordanian desert, cobras mulling over samosas in India, and bees swarming miniature trays of nectar flowers in the US.

Rosen’s standard modus operandi is to create the setting, introduce the animals to it, and let them figure out what to do. “I never really know what’s going to happen,” she says. “It’s exciting to sit back and watch.” Sometimes, that sitting back can stretch on for hours, as in the case of the flamingos in the US, who were simply not interested in the victuals on offer. Sometimes the set pieces can be the problem, as in the case of the starfish shoot in Norway, where the table kept floating away. But the delightfully whimsical final images make it worth all the pain.

The beasts and birds featured in the series are sourced from sanctuaries, animal rescue organizations, farms, as well as from individuals who use them in the tourist trade — a testimony to the conflicted relationship we have with our fellow non-human beings and the confusing ways we interact with them. By placing them in a setting usually reserved for humans, Rosen hopes to raise the question of whether we may have more in common with non-human animals than we admit. “The feasts,” she writes in her artists’ statement, “invite the viewers to reflect on … our relationship and responsibility to the creatures we share the planet with.”

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