Archive for Sunday, November 3, 2002

Bovines on parade, in pasture inspire photos

November 3, 2002



The cattle call isn't what got Lawrence photographer Shakura Jackson's attention.

It was the motley herd she encountered last summer during a trip to the Kansas City Zoo with her husband.

"We were going through the Plaza to get to the zoo and suddenly there were all these cows out around," Jackson said. "For some reason, I just got very excited about the cows. I found them delightful and interesting."

No, the popular shopping district had not been overrun with live barnyard animals. Jackson had simply discovered the Kansas City Cow Parade.

She fished her camera out of her car and began snapping frame after frame of the colorful fiberglass cows that artists had transformed from pasture grazers to artwork. On return trips, Jackson photographed cow sculptures at Crown Center and Union Station.

The resulting collection of photographs became the starting point for a solo exhibition at the Kansas City Artists Coalition's New Works Gallery. "Dreaming of Cows" opened Friday and continues through Nov. 29.

"My goal was to manipulate the cow parade cows enough and montage them so they became my piece of work," Jackson said.

Each of her modern silver frames encloses two up-close views of a cow, one above the other in a sort of collage.

Whimsical work

But Jackson didn't stop there.

Her study of the faux cows piqued her curiosity about real cows. So she took her camera to pasture, set on securing portraits of live bovines in their natural environment.

"I found out quickly enough that cows are too scared to get very close," she said. One early photograph in the live cow series shows a lone cow, tentatively scoping out Jackson from a distance. She calls it "Who Goes There?"

Rather than shoot cattle from afar, Jackson hit the Douglas County Fair in August, where the cows were cleaned up and accustomed to being around people. She ended up with about 20 photos that she will display in the exhibit on a separate wall in golden frames.

The contrast between the fake and live cow photos is vivid.

Jackson's shots of the Cow Parade show the beasts from unusual points of view, with legs sometimes jutting upside down or out in space and bodies often tipped at odd angles.

"One of my purposes is whimsy and amusement," she said. "Most people think of cows as being inherently amusing anyway."

During last weekend's Lawrence ArtWalk, visitors to Jackson's studio chuckled as they viewed her photographs, particularly the shots of live cows.

Even she can't help but laugh when she looks at one photo that shows only a black cow's two front legs and hooves.

"It reminded me of my grandmother's short, sturdy legs ... and her black shoes," she said.

The exhibit's signature piece fuses the two distinct series of photos. It frames a portrait of a live cow with her eyes closed, as if daydreaming, inside a border of small, black-and-white versions of the cow parade photos. Comically, it's dubbed, "Bessie Dreaming of Becoming a Star."

Trademark style

Montaging photographs of ordinary objects into creations of her own making is Jackson's MO. That quickly becomes apparent with a visual sweep of her studio, where the white walls boast examples of her east alley series  shot in the alleys between Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets  and her neon series, pieced together with photos of glowing neon signs.

"What you see in the environment is so large. What you see with a camera is so small," said Jackson, whose photographs have appeared in juried exhibitions across Kansas and the Midwest. "I always felt the need to show more and more of a thing."

Showing different characteristic and mannerisms of live cows turned out to be educational for Jackson. Her camera became a research engine, revealing the bump on cows' heads that Jackson hadn't noticed before and the animals' capacity to open or close their toes to maintain balance.

She's far from a livestock expert, but she did connect to the animals on some level.

"I realized that cows are conscious beings. They have their own thoughts and feelings. They're curious," Jackson said.

One of her photographs perhaps exaggerates that sense of emotion by showing a profile of a cow with tears running down its cheek. It's called "No Crying in the Beef Show" and makes reference to the fact that by the time a cow makes it to the county fair's beef show, its value is measured purely in the cash it will bring for meat.

But that serious tone doesn't really carry over into the rest of the exhibit. The photos are playful and, Jackson hopes, will delight viewers  as they did her  with their unexpected source of humor: the cow.

"You never know where you're going to get ideas, inspiration and knowledge."

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