I’ve always thought that, among the arts, photography is unique in one respect: a rank amateur is capable of taking a world-class photograph, one that could be exhibited in a gallery were it taken by a famous photographer. (I must say that I took at least one that would do credit to Henri Cartier-Bresson.) Painting may occasionally meet this standard too—one hears of two-year-olds, or chimps, who have produced abstract paintings that could be mistaken for great art.
At any rate, this question comes up with the arrival on the art scene of Cooper, an American shorthair from Seattle. As described in an article at ArtInfo, once a week Cooper’s owner sends him out with a digital camera affixed to his collar, programmed to snap a photo every two minutes.
And the art just pours in:
As revealed in the “Best of the CAT CAM” album on Facebook, Cooper’s photos are vernacular visions of the feline artist’s environs, captured in saturated, sunny colors — Cooper rarely ventures out in inclement weather — that have an air of William Eggleston about them. One work, titled “Risqué,” takes a saucy look up a lady’s skirt, while others present ominous close-ups of Cooper’s (human) baby brother, Cameron, who slumbers peacefully as his rival for the Cross’ affection stalks ever closer… until he hovers only a whisker away. As a stylistic flourish, the photographer cat has turned a defect in his camera into something of a signature: all of his pictures are dated July 2006.
Still other photos capture tulips, the corner of a “Star Wars” poster, tall grasses, a lily-white statue of the Madonna, and garden gnomes espied through the underbrush. A particularly dramatic series portrays other cats on the prowl, many of whom social media commenters have posited might be Cooper’s secret girlfriends. (The tail-chaser is not coy about his charms, boasting on his site that “the local lady cats rather dig a bad boy with a camera.”) But it is the love of the critics that gratifies Cooper the most, such as when the Daily Mail eruditely weighs in on one of his choicest works: “in one hilarious snap the moment he mocks a dog trapped behind the glass of someone’s front porch is taken with almost human-like humor.”
I present some of Cooper’s oeuvre. The first one deals with the theme of mortality. Impending death, shown by the tree in fall foliage, is juxtaposed with a plant that has not yet senesced. The telephone line provides an ironic image of human communication, which of course will cease with death.
In this one, which I call Homage à Eggleston, Cooper uses the garish colors of sunset to make an ironic comment on the artificiality of modern life, in which there is no chromatic distinction between a dwelling and a plant:
Continuing his leitmotif of death (perhaps inspired by the fabled “nine lives” of his species), Cooper gives us another mournful view. Life, as symbolized by the sun and the telephone wires (another recurring theme in Cooper’s work), is wryly juxtaposed with the gloomy blanket of snow that supresses all life, including that below ground. Note how the precedence of nature over human striving is seen as the telephone wires “melt” in the sun:
Although Cooper rarely essays portraits, this one, of a vagrant fellow cat in Seattle, is nothing less than a rumination on human responsibility, for it makes us question whether our own species is responsible for his homelessness, or whether we ameliorate his condition by providing shelter, in the form of a car.
Finally, Cooper is not above a little self-referential humor. Here his shadow insistently reminds us that he is, after all, a cat, and that art need not be the purr-view of humans alone.
Here’s a video of Cooper and his work (check out Cooper’s other videos on his Facebook site).
Cooper had an exhibit: here he is at a display of his choicest works with his “owners” Michael and Deirdre Cross: