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Photo Essay: Humans and Wild Animals Meet in Poignant, Awkward Moments

In her photo essay "Domesticated," photographer Amy Stein explores the barriers between humanity's built environment and the wild.

Photos by Amy Stein

New York City photographer Amy Stein's photos are populated by characters—both human and non-human—who bump up against, in Stein's words, the "comfort and fear, dependence and determination, submission and dominance that play out in the physical and psychological encounters between man and the natural world."

Stein's series, "Domesticated," was awarded the Saatchi Gallery/Guardian prize in 2006, and the subsequent book received the award for best book at 2008's New York Photo Festival.

The photographs, which depict wild animals encountering and interacting with humans and the built environment, were constructed. They were set up based on oral accounts from residents of and near Matamoras, a small town in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Stein says of her work, "Within these scenes I explore our paradoxical relationship with the 'wild' and how our conflicting impulses continue to evolve and alter the behavior of both humans and animals. We at once seek connection with the mystery and freedom of the natural world, yet we continually strive to tame the wild around us and compulsively control the wild within our own nature."

To view the photo essay, scroll down. Quotations are based on original oral accounts.

“My dad won the goldfish and we put them in my room. Their bowl was small and I watched them swim. When we went to the river I saw how big their real home was.”

“It was the hottest day of the summer and I was learning to do flips off the diving board. As the day was ending I saw him staring at me next to the fence. My mom always said to stay still if I saw a bear.”

“We pulled to the side of the road and he was frozen in the lights, just as they say deer do..."

“I was watching TV and heard an odd thump at my sliding glass door. I don’t get a lot of visitors, so I got up to look. When I opened the door I saw this precious little bird on the deck. When I picked him up he was breathing, but then he just stopped.”

“Every morning I would sit and watch the birds outside my window. I bought a few birdhouses and my husband put them in the tree. I loved watching the birds so much I bought some parakeets at the pet store. I still watch the birds in the tree.”

“It was the coldest day of the year and the drive-thru line was really long. While we waited I could see the seagulls fighting over some french fries left in the parking lot. I laughed because seagulls make me think of the beach.”

“That morning I just got lucky.”

“The coyote walked straight up to light and began to yip and howl. He stayed there for a couple of minutes and then moved on to the next light in the parking light and howled again. He moved on to two more lights and then ran into the woods behind the store.”

“On my morning walk I saw the bird caught in the soccer net. He was just suspended there, fixed in a permanent flight.”

“A couple of years ago the deer started coming to our yard to eat the cat food. At first we would keep our distance and just watch them through the kitchen window.”

“The field beyond our fence is like a highway for wild animals.”

“It’s green and warm in here, so I think he thought it was the forest floor.”

“Last summer when I would hang the laundry out back I would see a fox. He would watch me and then run away through the high grass.”


Amy Stein is a photographer and teacher based in New York City. Her work explores our evolving isolation from community, culture, and the environment. She has been exhibited nationally and internationally and her work is featured in many private and public collections such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the Nevada Museum of Art, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art and the West Collection. Her portfolio can be viewed here.

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