A subject sits for the camera. His eyes are forlorn, his expression sorrowful. His long ears, covered in fur. A few milliseconds later, he’s run off to find food.
As an involved experiment testing the power of portraiture, photographer Kevin Horan decided to start taking pictures of farm animals ― namely, a crew of unruly goats.
“I thought I was going to photograph sheep,” Horan explained in an email with The Huffington Post. “I was originally inspired by the dozen sheep living across the lane from me when we moved to semi-rural Washington State. They greeted me with a whole range of voices, and I wondered if I might be able to make classic studio portraits of the different characters.”
But the sheep proved to be tough subjects. They wouldn’t sit still, and Horan was wary of letting them near his lighting equipment. So, he decided to search for a tamer lot and discovered a goat dairy farm nearby. His new animal subjects were used to sitting still; they were milked twice a day and had grown to be somewhat domesticated because of their frequent human interaction.
The result was a series of photos that revealed his goat subjects to be ― at least during their brief moments caught on camera ― expressive creatures. A heavily bearded goat looks contemplatively off into the distance. A stringy-haired goat faces the camera head-on, confrontationally.
“When people look at the pictures, they like to read a lot of human qualities into the goats. Whether that’s an accurate assessment or not, I can’t say,” Horan said. “The pictures do invite us in, however, to consider what’s going on in that other brain. Isn’t that what pet owners do almost constantly? When I had a dog, I would stare at her and ask, ‘Lulu, what are you thinking?’”
The act of photographing the goats was a tricky one for Horan. Bringing the goats to his studio proved impossible, so he set up equipment at farms and goat rescue sanctuaries to place his subjects in a makeshift studio. “Some will stay, some will not,” he said. Like photographing babies, he added, patience is key and coercion is useless. But, for Horan, the time investment is worth it.
“What I’m trying to do with this project is to look into these other creatures and see if I can find someone in there,” he said. “It’s not unlike human portraiture, where the goal is to capture gestures that lead us to some understanding. Yes, when treated seriously as portrait subjects, these animals definitely seem to have personalities.”