Cover image for Animal portraits
Animal portraits
Schels, Walter, 1936-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Zurich ; New York : Edition Stemmle, [2001]

Physical Description:
118 pages : chiefly illustrations ; 37 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TR727 .S34 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

On Order



Walter Schels' decision to photograph animals was not just motivated by a love of same. Here too this passionate portraitist and photographic researcher of the human physiognomy was driven by his interest in all creation, his delight in rendering essence and personality visible in a photograph. The results are anything but pretty animal portraits of the kind found in countless publications. He has photographed the animals like great portraitists photograph people: mostly using a large-format camera, sometimes in his studio, often outside pens or cages, with great earnestness and a deep desire to capture the very essence of what he is portraying. He has thus achieved something unique in animal photography: astonished and strangely touched, we find ourselves confronted with an animal face that reminds us of human features. The decadence in the face of the cat, the melancholy in the eyes of the monkey, the attentiveness in the gaze of the elephant. The links we make are reminiscent of the dialectics of essence and appearance anticipated in the case of humans by 18th century physiognomists. These photographs also call to mind our own animal nature and are therefore not just humorous and amusing, but serious too, because in the animals' apparently human characteristics we discover our own essence.

Walter Schels' black-and-white animal photographs are unique and incomparable. A series of portraits worthy of public acclaim.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

In the brief afterword to this album, German photographer Schels, a fine portraitist, confesses what may seem a strange orientation to the art: "For my portraits of people, I wanted `animal-like' faces without poses and superfluous smiles, without the implied question: `How do I look?'" Which attitude accounts, perhaps, for the stunning quality of his black-and-white images of animals' faces, all presented, proper portrait-wise, against black or white backdrops. Although they can't smile, animals don't hide their feelings, Schels opines, and "that is why we sometimes think we recognize a carefully hidden part of our own inner selves in an animal's expression." Dunno about inner selves, but the camel looks like a bully, the bear looks like a bishop, and the pigs all look like city councilmen. Most impressive is the pictures' presentational force, thanks to which it is possible to stare enrapt at the elephant's head and ear that, with every wrinkle and texture of skin ruthlessly exposed, resemble nothing so much as a relief map of an alternative Africa. --Ray Olson

Library Journal Review

Great portraits not only expose the inner workings of the subject but also create an emotional resonance that elicits an association for the viewer. Here, Schels encounters another level of complexity because his subjects are animals, seldom viewed as individuals in their own right. Schels's sophisticated black-and-white studio portraits consist of head shots of earnest and supple cats, quirky and noble dogs, observant sheep, stern roosters, and a few exotica, including a gawky kangaroo, a ruggedly etched elephant, and a resplendent golden eagle. Simply placed and directly viewed, the faces of these animals are intricate, communicative, highly personable, and surprisingly unique. Overall, the animals seem at ease and aware, often even participatory. From the reflective gaze of a chimpanzee to the scrutiny of a house cat, Schels settles for none of the more common sentimental and sugary ideas of these animals but seeks and repeatedly finds undeniable and frequently comical evidence of their distinctive personalities and universal traits. This book is recommended for large public libraries and, though not intended as such, will also make a delightful addition to well-endowed children's collections. Debora Miller, Minneapolis (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.