When Kevin Horan takes one of his elegant black-and-white portraits, the faces are full of personality. Sweet Pea is, like her name, sweet. Lily is shy. Jake is looking for trouble. Sydney is a bold visionary, like Che Guevara staring off into the distance.
This is all the more remarkable considering all of Horan’s subjects are goats.
Eight of Horan’s goat portraits are on view at EBK Gallery [small works], 218 Pearl St. in Hartford, from Thursday, July 6, to Aug. 29. The opening reception will be Saturday, July 8, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. ebkgallery.com.
Horan, who lives and works in Langley, Wash., on an island north of Seattle, said there’s no way of knowing whether the facial expressions in the portraits are indicative of each individual goat’s actual personality. Rather, his portraits are meant to convey that goats, despite what many people think, do have personalities.
“Anyone who has spent time around goats knows they’ve got them. It’s not some undifferentiated herd. They’re all very different,” Horan says in a phone interview. “The fun of making these and looking at them is to get a little insight into another individual, even one that’s not human. I think of them, in these pictures, as non-human persons. We’re treating them as persons, even if they’re not people.”
He chooses goats for his portraits, as well as some sheep and pigs, because they’re not domestic animals.
“I was just as interested in a dog but there’s something about dogs. We’re so used to them as pets. With farm animals, you’re used to thinking of them as farm animals,” he says. “I tried horses, too. Horses were fun and made beautiful pictures, but I didn’t get that little ‘flip’ where they become this person.
“I’m not coming at it from an activist point of view, animal rights or anything. I am just trying to let you consider that we’re not the only ones here who have something on the ball. I don’t know what’s going on inside that head, but I think there’s probably a lot more going on than we casually think. There is a consciousness there.”
To create his portraits, Horan set up a backdrop, camera and lighting in a barn. Then, helped by the dairy farmer who owns the animals, he waited for the goats to wander into exactly the right spot in the lighting. “We’d get them in there, maybe get a few frames. Then they would leave and we would try to get them in there again and again,” he says.
He compared it to shooting portraits of babies.
“You can create the set and the lighting and put the baby in there, but there’s no trying to coerce them. It’s best to wait,” he says. “If you’re watchful and observant, you can seize the moment and create the moment.”
Ultimately, Horan says, he wants his photographs to help bridge a “trans-species gulf.”
“I had a Jack Russell terrier and I used to grab her cheeks and pull her nose to me and say ‘Lulu, Lulu, what are you thinking?’ I was dying to know. People who are nuts about animals think they bridge the gulf. This is a way to do it with photography.”