British/American, born 1966
Through her one-of-a-kind camera-less Animalogram photograms, Briski offers viewers a synthesis of art and the natural world, immersing viewers in the realm of wild creatures within their native habitats. The resulting images are a record of the artist’s extraordinary animal encounters, all captured without the reliance on a conventional camera amidst the backdrop of nocturnal woodlands.
Briski’s ingenious process embraces the serendipitous interplay of uncontrollable and unpredictable factors. With meticulous preparation, Briski delves into a detailed study of her subjects’ natural habitats, forging an intimate connection with their daily routines and the paths they traverse through the wilderness. The artist ventures into wild and remote locations on moonless nights, strategically positioning expansive sheets of light-sensitive photographic paper. In the presence of these majestic animals, she patiently awaits their appearances in complete darkness, at times enduring long, hushed vigils. When a wild inhabitant crosses the paper’s path, she captures a fleeting exposure using a small hand-held flash, ensuring the creature remains undisturbed. The exposed paper is then carefully rolled and stored until Zana Briski later develops each life-size image in the darkroom and only then discovers if a successful image is created. To imbue an additional layer of depth and enhance image permanence, Briski enriches the resulting photogram by gold toning the print.
When successful, the uncontrollable and unpredictable factors fall into place and a singularly unique and otherworldly life-size image of wild creatures directly imprint onto photographic paper. Zana Briski aligns herself with the heritage of unveiling the imperceptible. In this realm, there exists no photographic negatives and each image stands alone in its uniqueness. Briski’s Animalograms serve as spectral offerings, and invite us to contemplate the beauty and fragility of the natural world through her unique perspective.
Zana Briski’s Panoranimals series, much like her Animalographs, delves into her exploration of diverse environments around the world. Over the past three decades, Briski has embarked on solitary journeys to remote and untamed locations, capturing Earth’s creatures, ranging from the tiniest insects to the grandest whales. These expeditions often extend for 4-5 months, during which her primary focus lies in patient observation and waiting. As Briski eloquently describes, “Occasionally, a magical moment unfolds before my camera: a giraffe sprinting at dusk, bathed in the last rays of the sun, with a storm brewing in the background; ten million straw-colored fruit bats departing their roosts in a Zambian mangrove, bound for fruiting trees under a full moon; a male kangaroo, fiercely guarding and caring for his blind mate, momentarily turning to meet my gaze…”
For her panoramas, Zana employs a fixed-lens Widelux camera loaded with 35mm black and white film, creating a profound connection between herself and her subjects. These panoramic photographs capture vast landscapes and their animal inhabitants, imbuing them with an essence of authenticity and untamed beauty.
Zana’s Panoranimals are printed on handmade Japanese washi paper—a particularly special traditional washi crafted from the Kozo plant. The art of papermaking was introduced to Japan over 1,300 years ago, and the skills have been passed down through generations in traditional villages. Some master washi-makers are revered as National Living Treasures. The knowledge and expertise of these washi artisans enhance the uniqueness of each print. Briski’s choice to print over the deckled edge of a handmade sheet of paper is not only visually exquisite but also symbolizes the unending nature of the wild environments in which these animals reside.
Following her graduation from the University of Cambridge, Briski attended the International Center of Photography in New York. Her thirty-plus years of dedication to her field have earned her recognition in the form of prestigious awards and fellowships. Her documentary film, Born Into Brothels, achieved the highest acclaim by winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2005, an Emmy, along with 33 other awards. Notably, she was also the recipient of two distinguished New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships in 1996 and 1998. The Open Society Institute recognized her with a prestigious fellowship in 1999, and in the same year, she was awarded the esteemed Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize. Among her numerous distinctions, she was honored with the esteemed Lucie Humanitarian Award in 2005, showcasing her deep commitment to humanitarian causes.