The Animals (2005-2010)
by Alison Nordström, Curator of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
"Giacomo Brunelli has been looking hard at animals. His focus is not on the framed and caged exotica of zoos but on the ordinary animals that remain with us to some extent: horses, dogs, cats, chickens, pigeons. He shows us a fox, looking
sharply at the camera and poised to flee, and there are numerous birds, a snake and several toads, but this wildness is small and fragile, living in the familiar liminal space where man-made and natural meet and overlap. His animals inhabit
farmyards, cobbled streets and the façades of stone buildings. There are no tigers here.
Brunelli’s animals are often composed only of suggestive fragments. His spare black and white images are attuned to the nuances of a moving mane, a silhouetted whisker, a highlighted, almost illuminated wing. He favours the profile and
the counterintuitive angle, setting dark unobser vable features against dark undiscernable backgrounds. A dead mouse, on its back, paws in air beside an oversized flower against a stark and distant mountain is no more or less frozen in time than is the growling dog, eyes alight and teeth forever bared; both are icons of states we fear but cannot know. These pictures are timeless and uncanny, powerful in their ordinariness, and emotionally much bigger than their simple subjects. In them we find scraps of barely remembered troubled dreams, or even the barely retained remnants of that first consciousness that informed ancestral hands and minds in the caves of Chauvet Pont d Arc and Lascaux some 30,000 years ago.
There is a strong implication of apocalypse in the intensity of lighting and setting of these curious and compelling images. In one, a white horse pulls itself upright from a prone position against a glowering sky horizoned by a dense line of indistinguishable trees. It is all powerful muscular flanks and determined muzzle, clearly something more than a horse in a field but nothing that can be kenned by intellect. That same ominous sky appears again behind a stretching, possibly snarling, housecat, the edge of its forepaw lit, its head and whiskers minimally picked out by the light, while black trees loom and clouds gather from the thick black border that establishes the image as a primal monster. Similarly, an ambiguous quadrapedal skeleton crouches in perpetuity against a barely visible backdrop of mountain and fog. We recognise it as animal and as dead, but that is all. These are creatures of darkness emerging from darkness; we know them but we do not know what they mean. Pictures in a book may convey only part of the material nature and tactile experience of the photographs they represent. It is important to note here that Brunelli has chosen to keep his black-bordered pictures small and to round their
corners like those of a nineteenth century cabinet card. They are, thus, intimate and contemplative, set in a distinctive universe altogether separate from the epic oversized colour work so prevalent today. They are secret and magical, with the
power and intensity of totem, fetish, myth. They are quiet little stories that we tell ourselves because we have always known them. They fit our hands".