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CULTURE MONSTER : A haunting animal kingdom

November 15, 2009|Suzanne Muchnic

A striking nighttime image of two leopards, one snarling in profile, the other looking warily over its shoulder, appears on posters all over Paris announcing "anima," an exhibition of photographs by Jean-Francois Spricigo.

On view at the Palais de l'Institut de France through Nov. 21 and coming to Louis Stern Fine Arts in Los Angeles in January, the show introduces a body of work produced by the young Belgian artist who won the 2008 Prix de Photographie de l'Academie des Beaux-Arts.

One of many applicants for the prestigious annual prize, Spricigo submitted eight prints and a proposal to a jury appointed by the academy. He was awarded 15,000 euros (about $22,500) to realize the project, a suite of 60 black-and-white images of animals.

What apparently impressed the judges was the artist's fresh approach to a standard subject. Neither sentimental nor anthropomorphic, his blurry, soft-edge images have a haunting, soulful quality.

Most of the cats, dogs, donkeys, goats, horses, cows and birds depicted in the pictures emerge from the dark as unexpected encounters with creatures caught in motion. Whether seen up close or at a distance, the animals confront viewers with surprising intimacy.

But evocative and immediate as his photographs may be, the artist describes them as visual memories, images that deal with the essence of nature rather than physical details.

"This is not a reflection of the relationship between man and animals," he said of his work. "I want the animals to speak for themselves."

-- Suzanne Muchnic

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