by Ward Long

(Our friend Ward Long is guestblogger-in-residence on ACO.
Let’s hear it for WARD!)

Photographers go out looking for things, and sometimes those things look back. Ed Panar’s Animals That Saw Me is a collection of staring cows, glancing dogs and a menagerie of seeing animals. It’s one of the funniest photo books of the year, and universally accessible in a way that so many theory-laden serious art tomes aren’t. I asked Ed some questions about his process.

The photographs in Animals That Saw Me come from 17 places shot over the course 18 years, but they seem to share a very specific mood. Can you tell me a little bit about your shooting routine?

I don’t really have much of a routine, other than simply trying to shoot as much as possible, wherever I’m at. Usually that means photographing where I’m living so that is where most of my pictures are from. I like to go on long walks with the intention of making pictures as much as I like to simply have my camera ready for random and unexpected moments. The consistency that you’re noticing in Animals That Saw Me might have something to do with the editing, as I feel like it’s during that step that you are able to shape how pictures feel by placing them together in a group. 

Did you start to notice these seeing-animals while editing your archive, or is it something you were consciously pursuing with your camera? When did these pictures start to coalesce into a project, and how did the project become this book?

It was 2007 when I first noticed I had a stack of animal pictures that seemed to share this quality of them being aware of me. I remember laughing really hard when I thought of the title Animals That Saw Me around that time but I can’t remember exactly when that was. After I set this group of pictures aside with the new title in mind, I began thinking more about the project and why certain pictures seemed to work better than others in order to better understand what was happening. Ever since then I have definitely been more tuned into seeking out animal encounters, but other than being out shooting regularly there’s not much I can do to plan on having these encounters ahead of time. There has to be a genuine element of surprise for them to work, so it’s not something I have much control over.

In an interview with Sunday and Wednesday, you said that you try to strike a balance between accident and intention while shooting AND while editing. I understand how you can combine both while taking pictures, but I tend to think of editing as a painstaking process with lots of control and time to get it right. How do you make accidents part of the editing process?

I try to create a situation in which accidents might occur by spending time with my archive in various forms. I keep adding to my archive pretty regularly, and it has reached a point where it is now impossible for me to have complete awareness of all the pictures I have at any given time. I think this is by design, because I really like to go back through and find things that I am surprised by or didn’t expect to see. I also make a lot of print on demand books which gives me an excuse to organize and sort my pictures in a very loose way. Sketching out ideas and layouts in book form allows me to get to know my pictures better and sometimes new connections arise from this. I think of these types of discoveries as a kind of accident.