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Developing AnimalsWildlife and Early American Photography$
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Matthew Brower

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780816654789

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816654789.001.0001

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The Appearance of Animals: Abbott Thayer, Theodore Roosevelt, and Concealing-Coloration

The Appearance of Animals: Abbott Thayer, Theodore Roosevelt, and Concealing-Coloration

(p.135) Chapter 4 The Appearance of Animals: Abbott Thayer, Theodore Roosevelt, and Concealing-Coloration
Developing Animals

Matthew Brower

University of Minnesota Press

This chapter looks at Abbott Thayer’s use of photography to present and develop his theories of animal coloration, and the Thayer-Roosevelt debates over animal display in the years 1896–1921. Thayer advocated for a generalized understanding of animal coloration as adaptive camouflage protecting its bearer. He thus suggested that the normal condition of animals is invisibility. Thayer used photography as a key method for demonstrating his discoveries. His work emphasized photographs in which the animals depicted are indistinguishable from their environment. The chapter argues that Thayer’s work opens up a number of key questions for thinking about animal photography. His photographs highlight the difficulties involved in photographing invisibility, and in doing so, they emphasize photography’s bias toward visibility. They also draw attention to the important difference between seeing and knowing animals, which animal photography generally obscures. Thayer’s work highlights the limits of photography for depicting animals by opening the question of the animal’s relation to its environment.

Keywords:   Abbott Thayer, animal coloration, animal photographs, animal photography, wildlife photography, invisibility, visibility

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