COREY ARNOLD grew up surrounded by animals. "At one point, when I was about 11, we had two dogs, eight rabbits, a hamster, a snake, and like four cats," he says.
"My cats took turns sleeping on my face at night while I dreamt of swimming with pet dolphins and hunting exotic fish in distant seas," reads the artist statement for his show Wildlife, on display through November 29 at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art.
Arnold's previous shows have focused on the world of commercial fishing: When not in Portland, Arnold spends part of the year working as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, and was even among the crews featured on the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch. However, his current exhibition has a broader scope, continuing his lifelong fascination with the human-animal connection.
The photos, most shot this year and last year, stand alone in craft as masterful studies in color and light. The photograph "Adak Foam" has the drama, depth, and glow of a Venetian oil painting. The images are large: about four by three feet. They're classic documentary photographs—Arnold's done editorial assignments for the likes of Sunset and National Geographic—but with humor and an edge. In most of them, Arnold's focus is at dead center, which has an unnerving and confrontational effect.
In a conversation over breakfast, Arnold explained some of the stories behind the images in Wildlife. "Fight or Flight" features a mangy bald eagle, captured in the middle of blinking, its mouth gaping mid-scream. The photo was taken in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, says Arnold, and the shot required him to lie on his belly just a few feet from the subject, his hood covering his head to protect him from swarming eagles. "I'm fascinated by the fact that [the bald eagle is] America's national symbol, and it's living off of humans' garbage," Arnold said. "Their heads are always dirty because they're always digging in the garbage and there are always oily rags. It's a fishing industry town, so there's oil everywhere."
Of another photo "Bird Watching," he says: "I was doing a shoot for Outside magazine, a story about Bikini Atoll in Micronesia. [The bird] was protecting its nest. I was hiding under a tree because it was swooping on me so hard. It was trying to peck my eyes out. Hovering there, staring at me—this angelic thing that was trying to kill me."
Stories aside, Wildlife is a show that lets you draw your own conclusions. With open-ended titles and stunning photos, it inspires more questions than answers about our relationship to the creatures around us.