in her studio. The response she received from peers and others who came to see the
work made it clear she was “on the right track.” She says she knew, however, that “I
had to work another ten years to make it clear [my work] wasn’t just about esthetic
images,” and that her animal portraits explore serious conceptual themes.
Her realization was prescient. This month, a decade after Dumas finished her
residency at Rijksakademie, a solo exhibition of her work will open at the Corcoran
Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. (Though it’s not her first solo show at an institution and her career as an artist is well established, it will be her first major exhibition
at a U.S. museum.) The exhibition, “Charlotte Dumas: Anima,” will feature a new
series of portraits commissioned by the Corcoran, as well as a retrospective of previous bodies of work.
The new series of portraits depicts the horses that work in burial ceremonies at
Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, by pulling caissons bearing the
deceased. To make the images, Dumas spent long hours at night in the stables, photographing the horses as they laid down and fell asleep in their stalls.
Dumas relied only on ambient stable lights to create her images. Her multi-second exposures emphasize the textures and colors of the horses’ hides, which
combine in the frame with shadows cast by the stable lights to give the portraits
beautiful depth and a compelling, tranquil atmosphere.
The visual layers, which are enhanced further in the actual prints by film grain,
provide an entry point for viewers into the conceptual significance of Dumas’s
Clockwise from left: Dumas’s exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art includes images from her
series on racehorses in Palermo, Italy, and Paris, France; an image from her series on gray
wolves living in sanctuaries in the U. S. and Europe; Dumas spent hours observing the Arlington
horses as they fell asleep, capturing them in a relaxed state.
multifaceted images, which draw on the histories of portraiture, photography and
the use of horses by the military.
By photographing the Arlington National Cemetery horses at rest, Dumas emphasizes their vulnerability and their state of “surrendering to complete relaxation,”
which we rarely see, she says.
Dumas notes, these horses also have “ties to the past” when war horses used to pull
caissons loaded with canons or other materials, or ride into battle with their masters.
People who work with animals are rare in modern society, Dumas says. They are
“in this lucky position because they get to experience [animals] in a different way
than just having them on a pedestal and completely adoring them or using them for
food or in horrible ways.” Between the extremes of how humans relate to animals,
Dumas says, “there’s this big middle part that’s basically completely eroded because
it only exists with very few people who maybe train animals.”
Since her earliest series on Rotterdam police horses, Dumas has been interested
in animals that have unique or rare interactions with human beings. She chose to
photograph stray dogs in Palermo, Italy (collected in Heart Shaped Hole, 2008), for