By Patricia Guthrie / Whidbey News Group
WHIDBEY ISLAND — Kevin Horan is a “recovering photojournalist” who moved to Whidbey Island from Chicago in 2006 with his wife, Nancy Horan, a best-selling author of historical fiction.
Getting to know his new South Whidbey neighbors, he became intrigued with the four-legged variety — sheep, goats, pigs and horses.
Around his home in east Langley, Horan listened to a chorus of sheep, and while driving back roads, he passed by many farms with curious goats.
He recently published a new photography collection called “Goats and Sheep: A Portrait Farm.” Published by 5 Continents Editions in Milan, Italy, the 128-page hardcover book sells for $35.
“I’d stop and they would come up and they were talking in all these different voices,” Horan recalled. “They’re all different, they’re not just a herd. I wanted to take a deeper look at them. I started thinking, what if the goat, he or she, wants a portrait for the ancestors to admire?”
Rather quickly, Horan found out that barnyard animals “are not that manageable” inside a photo studio, so “the studio goes to them.”
But then sheep proved to be antsy and anxious in front of a lens. Horan decided he needed a farm animal that could keep still for at least a 15-minute shoot. He approached Vicky Brown, owner of Little Brown Farm in Freeland, with a “kooky idea to set up a studio in your barn and take portraits of your goats.”
Twice a day, she milked her goats so they were accustomed to standing still.
Horan set-up a pop-up portrait studio that included a black drape background, diffusion umbrellas on tripods, strobe lights and medium format digital camera.
“It was Vicky’s job to get them into the light,” Horan said. “Sometimes we had to bribe them with treats. It’s not like they were posing.”
The results, though, are revealing, vivid and insightful.
Curly Sue, Dumbledore, Ben, Jake, Sydney, Bella, Sherlock, Xenia, Xantippe, Luigi and Duchess — they have distinct names, features and personalities— floppy ears, regal horns, curly heads, silky beards, forlorn stares, crooked teeth, sad eyes, defiant stances.
To some viewers, maybe they resemble a relative, an ex-spouse, a celebrity. Or maybe they are just creatures wondering why a human is flashing bright lights into their eyes.
To Horan, his neighborhood sheep began to look like aristocratic country gentlemen and ladies deserving of nice studio portraits to put in their country homes.
“If you have a dog or a cat, you often wonder, ‘What are they thinking?’ So I looked at these animals the same way,” Horan said. “People think sheep are bland and dumb, but they’re not.”
Horan also set up photo shoots at New Moon Farm Goat Rescue Sanctuary in Arlington and at other Whidbey farms.
Horan’s recent photos have been shown at galleries around the country to rave reviews and they are selling around the globe. His book also is printed in French and Italian.
As a staff and freelance photojournalist for newspapers and magazines for 30 years, Horan’s assignments ranged from hovering above dog sled teams in a helicopter to capture the Iditarod to following the transactions of a single dollar bill across the country.
His work appeared in Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian, The New York Times and he worked as a contract photographer with U.S. News & World Report.
Although he jokes about his passion project, it’s clear that Horan wants his work to help bridge the divide between people and animals that at one time wasn’t as vast as it is today.
“Goats and sheep have served us from the earliest of times,” he writes in his book. “They have walked the world with us. By paying attention, we honor the musings of the sheep and the jests of the goats. And so these pictures make a kind of meditation on our earthly brother-and-sisterhood.”
For more information: www.kevinhoran.com