Her photographs are crisp and colorful, naked female bodies, stark backgrounds and… a huge, wrinkly cow. Allyson Anne Lamb’s photography skews glamour shots with rural living. In reality, her work comments on how our culture relies on sustenance from agriculture without knowing anything about the day-to-day realities of husbandry. We spoke with her about her inspiration, her background, and her obsessions with farm animals.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I think everyone wants to hear some grand moment as a child that has turned me into some freaky cow lover, but I had no weird animal experiences. I grew up in a pretty rural area, and there is not a lot for teenagers to do but cruise around back roads. We called it "back roading.”
Eventually, we cruised around with cameras, and found interesting old buildings or towns, patches of cows, or the occasional buffalo, but mostly we took pictures of each other. We all had cameras, and we we're all taking basically the same picture, but in my mind, mine we're undoubtedly better. My friends were already very sure they wanted to be a filmmaker, an environmental activist, or a fiction writer, but I was undecided, so these excursions helped me find the confidence to focus on my photography practice.
I didn't look at a lot of specific photographers. My high school art building was some dead rich guy's garage, and it was always in a bit of chaos – full of books, random stuff laying around, art from students years passed, and our teacher welcomed us to browse through anything we found during and after school. We were always there. So I was not mimicking well-known photographers as much as I was mimicking my friends and other students. We were all working in the dark room, so we'd see each other’s film, contact sheets, and final prints. I challenged myself to experiment based on the things I'd see them do that I wished I'd thought of.
Obviously, in your "Beefcakes" series, there is a strange fascination with the grotesque. Where does this come from?
Isn't everyone fascinated with the grotesque? We are. Certain people do not admit their intrigue because it is not "tasteful". Honestly, I don't mean to make the images appear disturbing, but the images I end up choosing out of my edit sometimes are. But sometimes things are disturbing! I guess I just lean that way…
What the hell kind of cow is that in Beefcakes?
A recurring theme in your work is to basically take the idea of photography as a medium of the fashion/design industry and complicate it with elements of grotesque, rural life, nonhuman, and heteronormative behavior. Can you talk about this more in depth? How does this relate to your own identity, in terms of the every day, sexuality, political, etc?
Yeah, they are glamour shots for beasts.
By photographing them with the same tools used to shoot a beauty campaign, I can influence people to recognize them as more than food. Even if you make no changes to your life because of it, images are permeable. They get in even when you don't want them to.
I care about food issues, farm issues, land issues, but I am not the kind of person to grab a bullhorn and scream political slogans with confidence. I am not a public speaker, and I certainly won't be drafting a bill anytime soon. Working with food animals, and making glamorous animal images is my way of inspiring those people who may have those skills to become more vocal, and question their reality.
Animals are a huge part of our lives, as most diets consist of cow products with a few veggies thrown in there, wrapped in bacon, but there are no contemporary tributes to them or a really intentionally beautiful representations of them as creatures. Their biggest media tribute is a really well styled burger photo.
Obviously, there is a ton of live stock photography, but its mostly very common, and makes them look stupid and average. Humans have so glamorized and heightened our own beauty, while playing down the beauty of nature and especially from other animals. I just wanted to acknowledge it, and change my focus from humans a bit. I'd been doing female nudes, and I needed to stop thinking about people all the time.
When I started with cows, there were no people for that reason, but I wanted to ad the human body back once I started to get to know the animals. There is definitely a bond, and I didn't want to keep our image separate anymore.
I'm interested in the practical side of your photography. What's it like to work with nude models and livestock at the same time lol?
Pretty fun! At first, it was hard to the the girls to ease up and just get on the cow. They were a little nervous, and the animal picks up on that, and runs off. I showed them, "ok. like this. just relax", and the cow would be calm with me because I was not uneasy. So it took a little bit of time to get everyone relaxed. I ended up finding local girls in the town with the ranch who were willing to pose with me as well. They're from around the area of the ranch, so they're familiar with the animals. They were super easy going, plopped right on up, and laid down.
After the first trip, I didn't have models, so the majority of the pictures are self portraits. It was seemingly dangerous since I was alone, but it all worked out.
What are you working on right now?
Occasionally, I'm rallying up some goats and some human babies. My last human baby and baby goat shoot was a bit sabotaged, and the hornless goat head butted the 18 month old, so I have a bit of working to do with this before I get any good shots. The baby was fine. She barely hit her, but still. That goat won't be invited to the next shoot.
To find out more about Allyson Anne Lamb visit here.