Kate Kirkwood, Cowspines | Collector Daily

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2022 by Ten O’Clock Books (here). Canvas hardcover with ventral band, 8×10 inches, 64 pages, with 28 color photographs. Includes an essay by Joel Meyerowitz. Design by Martin Chapman Fromm. (Cover and distribute the plans below.)

Comments/Background: In the post-Becher era, photographic typologies have grown from what was once a minor subcategory to an established discipline, attracting practitioners of all stripes and styles. Taryn Simon, Richard Misrach, Ken O’Hara, Mary Ellen Mark, Jeff Brouws and Penelope Umbrico may not seem to have much in common, but all have dipped an occasional toe in the typology waters. These and loads of other photographers have systematically documented everything from prison cells to sunsets to twins, t-shirts, contraband, water towers, gas stations, parking lots , etc., using the descriptive prowess of photography to highlight the differences and continuities between large groups.

At this point, so many topics have been sliced ​​and diced that the supply of untapped targets may seem limited. But of course, there are always new horizons. In the case of Kate Kirkwood, this statement literally applies. His typological focus is the backs of cattle, and his recent monograph Cowspines captures them against various hills and storm clouds, creating a surprisingly varied collection. Each spine is unique. All were found near rural Kirkwood Farm in England’s Lake District, then captured with patient determination over a period of twelve years.

Each of the Cowspines’28 photographs share a similar formal structure. Horizontal frames are layered with loose streaks of content, creating Rothko-esque compositions of stacked airplanes. The background is usually dominated by a single bovine hide, drawn a few meters away perpendicularly to compress the depth and accentuate the abstraction. The furry base layers finish towards the middle of the frame, at which point they give way to a higher register of country backgrounds and sky conditions. With just these two main ingredients – cows and landscapes – Kirkwood’s possibilities may seem limited. But his private cow world turns out to be vast, hiding an astonishing variety of shapes, textures and permutations, all enhanced by his keen sense of palette and juxtaposition.

Kirkwood may be the premier focus for its cowspines, but the Lake District has a rich photographic history. “It’s a daunting prospect to do landscape photography in [a place] which has been photographed endlessly, and its beauty affirmed by many masters,” she recently said. The Guardian. “I was wondering if there was a way to capture something else, something about the quiet spirit of the spaces I know here, to kind of describe how it moves me, and can -even being to move others in a new way.”

Cowspines called an insider, and Kirkwood was exactly the person for the job. Living nearby, she became familiar with the local animals and their habits. She developed an instinct for their spots and moments, and was able to foresee possibilities before they happened. The opening image, for example, gives the cow’s morphology the same shape and color as the background fog. The animal’s large back has the bulk of distant mountain ridges, with tufts of fur that might be mistaken for hummocks of grass. A few photos later, a different cow signals a completely different mood – this one has mottled brown fur to match the dark landscape behind. Both feel rather gloomy, just another summer’s day in the north of England. A few pages later and the atmosphere is reversed again. Kirkwood found a small rainbow on the horizon with colors matching the peach-colored skin of a cow.

These are just a few examples. All twenty-eight are different, each with its own horizontal stripes and internal logic. The inevitable impression is that of a photographer who has spent a lot of time on the farms at the magic hour, mingling with the cows and the camera, patiently observing. She has shot other farm animals and pastoral scenes in the past. Although most are generally rural-based and devoid of humans, his style leans toward the serendipity of urban loafers. In Cowspines– his first book – street skills are honed at pitchfork. A photo of a circular cloud juxtaposed just behind curved shoulder blades, for example, is as visible as any Oxford Street handshake. The foreword is by Joel Meyerowitz, better known in the world of street photography than among cowherds. “Artists help us see what was really there all along,” he notes. This is true of barns as well as sidewalks.

As with street photography, one can wonder about the deep meaning of these images. Are these simply exercises in composition, associating column X with backdrop Y? Yes they are. But for Kirkwood, one can also infer a certain emotional weight. For outsiders, they could serve as a gateway to benevolence, an insider’s view of Lake District culture. “I was struck by how well anchored the cows are in their landscape,” she told The Guardian, “…and like the landscape around them, the hills, the clouds, the stone walls, mixed with them, formed shapes, tones and textures around them.” She knows these cows and these reliefs like the back of her hand. His later exhibits have personality and warmth, a zoological version of a family album.

That’s all well and good, but I still believe that this book is probably best considered a typological study. The series of photos has a herd mentality, with the stubborn consistency of a train of mules, revealing unexpected parallels again and again. Maybe there is co-evolution, animal forms adapting to nature, and vice versa? Who would have guessed that cows could hold such secrets? Who else would have undertaken such an improbable project? It turns out that fur types, pattern, thickness, age, spots, size and skin tone are as individual as fingerprints. And their nearby weather systems follow suit, with gradations of sunlight, clouds and shadows. After looking through Kirkwood’s photos, the balance of expectations begins to shift. Instead of a typological stasis, the commonalities begin to seem almost miraculous. This is the hallmark of any typology worthy of the name.

Cowspines is just the second monograph from Ten O’Clock Books, a young UK-based publisher led by graphic designer Martin Chapman Fromm. His arrangement of Cowspines is simple and straightforward, a plain cloth-bound book with a traditional serif title, containing one photo per two-page spread. It would fit comfortably in an old farmhouse. The only (slightly annoying) flair is an additional belly band blurring Joel Meyerowitz’s foreword. Throwing his name on the cover might be an understandable nod to market forces, but roughly the same size as Kirkwood’s, it complements his own to grab attention. It’s a disconcerting detail, but a relatively minor one that doesn’t take much away, especially once the book is engaged and Kirkwood’s cow thorns start to supplant it from memory.

Collector’s point of view: Kate Kirkwood does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following should probably connect directly with the artist through their website (linked in the sidebar).

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