Ford offers a theory: "The emotions we apply to these animals are emotions that are within us." So, a bad day at the office might look like a weary highland calf. The feeling of receiving a text from your Hinge date could be a triumphant Ameraucana rooster. We anthropomorphize animals all the time, seeking to know them better in relation to our inner thoughts and feelings. Ford describes his series as "engaged portraits" but maybe they're something more, a rare naked glimpse at the most mystical and elusive breed of all: ourselves.
Just like high school, nature is full of class clowns, punks, drama geeks and stoics—and acclaimed photographer Randal Ford captures these distinct personalities... These stunning animal portraits will touch your heart
Feature Article October 2018 Issue
Though he has been able to photograph both an African elephant and an American buffalo in studio, there’s one animal Ford hasn’t been able to get to sit for a portrait: his own pet, a thirteen-year-old cat named Harley. “She’s super skittish—she won’t even come near a flash,” he says. “Every time I use a camera, she darts away as if she isn’t going to have anything to do with me.” Turns out, a little black-and-gray tabby might be the most elusive subject of all.
December 2018 Issue
No. 1 Best Gift Book list.
Majestic lions, and tigers and bears and more, photographed portrait-style. They sat still!
One of the most interesting facets of the book is Ford’s decision to photograph these animals in a studio environment. Although wild animals are most often seen in their natural habitat, Ford strips away context and elevates form through lighting and composition. He makes it easy to develop cathartic connections with these animals on a deep human level; he channels emotion without ever being able to communicate his intent to his subjects.
There is a methodical, studious process behind photographer Randal Ford’s work, a feeling of technical mastery mixed with exacting vision. It turns out, this doesn’t come from a rigorous fine art background but rather a business school degree. “From a business perspective, putting commerce on the same level as art can be really helpful,” he tells me from his studio in Austin. The 36-year-old photographer, well known for his advertising (L.L Bean, Verizon, AT&T) and editorial work (he created a cover for TIME) is about to release Animal Kingdom (Rizzoli), a collection of animal portraits he’s spent the last three years creating in between advertising gigs.
Randal Ford discusses The Animal Kingdom and his career with Austin Art Talk’s show host Scott David Gordan.
“We have literally been depicting animals since we could make artwork, since we could paint on the walls of caves. It’s pretty much across every culture and civilization in history, animals have been part of artwork that’s been created. I just found that so fascinating and when I was thinking about how to put what I was doing down on paper. That felt like the cornerstone idea of why I am doing this and why these animal portraits can be important and part of this, a part of humanities portrayal of animals in artwork.”
If you love animals and are inspired by fine art, this book is a gem. This collection is elegant, simple, and rich with emotion. As you move through the pages, the rather dapper ostrich standing leaning on one leg, leads to the black swan with the gracefully curved neck. And then there is the somber horse head with braided mane in black background, the thoughtful monkey with chin resting on his hand, and the skunk in black background hardly visible but for the white stripe of fur that curves sensuously through the length of his body. And oh, the pink cockatoo, in profile with that comical look on its face.
The Animal Kingdom: A Collection of Portraits will arouse your senses and inspire a new and unfamiliar appreciation for the animal kingdom.
Lions, tigers, bears — you'll find those in Austin photographer Randal Ford's glossy new book, Animal Kingdom (Rizzoli $40).
You'll also find studio portraits of less obviously majestic creatures. Take the upside-down sloth he nicknamed "Perry" (short for perezoso, lazy in Spanish.) "Most of my subjects can either stand on their legs or sit upright. Sloths, on the other hand, do neither. ... However, once I saw him hang, the light bulb went off: That was the shot."
In addition to wild animals, like tigers, lions, wolves, birds and bears, Ford also included domestic animals and pets as a part of his animal kingdom. College football fans in Texas will love his inclusion of the University of Texas mascot Bevo, the longhorn steer, and Texas A&M’s mascot Reveille, the collie, (A&M is the photographer’s alma mater). Other Texas critters made it into the book too. There’s Luke the horny toad and Queasa the armadillo, and a surly, snot-slinging bull named Wayne Crosby. There are pigs, chickens, and some of the most beautiful horses you’ve ever seen. And there’s more cows of course.
Randal Ford’s captivating portraits shine the spotlight on a variety of species from across the animal world. The collection’s objective, he says, is twofold: “to create a simple, singular, and beautiful portrait of the animal,” while providing people with an “emotional connection with nature and other living species.” Through photography, Ford says, he also seeks to erase the divide between animal and viewer: “Whether it’s beauty, power, or humor, I want to give the animals the opportunity to tell their own story and connect with you.”
Ford is a portrait artist at the core of his photography, so these animals are rooted in classical portraiture, inspired by the greats like Richard Avedon. Animals can be and quite often are majestic so to see them come across this way via the camera lens is really gorgeous!
In 2017 Randal Ford won first place and Best of Show in the prestigious International Photography Awards competition. His Black Rooster image was used on the cover of the annual as well.
In 2018 Randal Ford’s book won 1st place in the professional book category. Click here for more.