Catherine Chalmers manages to make captivating and beautiful those creatures that cause most of us to feel squeamish. Chalmers travels the world to capture images and video of rodents and insects in their habitats. Being one part scientist and one part artist, Chalmers is interested in bringing focus to nature using art as her vehicle.
For her most recent project, Leafcutters, which was partially funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship, Chalmers captured the activities of ants. She was intrigued by the many similarities they have with humans. She noted that like us, they inhabit almost every ecosystem on Earth, are one of the dominant species in their habitats and they impact the grand structure of other biological systems. Beyond that they also wage war, take slaves, raise and keep other animals for food, and are also capable of making their own antibiotics. They’re also, as Chalmers demonstrates, highly photogenic.
Chalmers American Cockroach series, equally beautiful and tough, captured arguably the world’s most dreaded insect. Forcing us to confront our discomfort with cockroaches Chalmers wondered if she could seduce people into liking them because, as with the ants, they’re a lot like us.
Other projects similarly deal with mankind confronting nature in an upfront, unconventional (how often do you see larger than life photographs of insects?) ways. Ultimately though, Chalmers’ works seem to be about our tendency, our need even, to humanize nature. We relate to nature by applying our own affinities, preconceived notions and beliefs to it. Chalmers seeks to challenge this approach and her work asks us to re-contextualize mankind’s relationship with nature. She wants us to de-marginalize it, to see it in a different way; perhaps she wants us to learn from it rather than to impose our knowledge onto it. In an interview Chalmers says, “If I had a hope, it would be to pull the animal world into the cultural arena in a meaningful way,” she says. “The things we care about are the things we tend to take care of.”