Goat walks into a photo studio. Asks if he can get his portrait done to give to his mom.
“Sorry, kid,” replies the photographer, “You’ll have to wait and follow the sheep.”
What sounds like a bad joke is actually the kernel of an idea that led to the publication of a new photography collection by Kevin Horan called “Goats and Sheep: A Portrait Farm.”
Horan will talk about the book at 2 p.m., Sunday, March 10 at Ott & Murphy Tasting Room in Langley. Published by 5 Continents Editions in Milan, Italy, the 128-page hard cover book sells for $35.
Horan is a “recovering photojournalist” who moved to Whidbey Island from Chicago in 2006 with his wife, Nancy Horan, a best-selling author of historical fiction.
Getting to know his new South Whidbey neighbors he became intrigued with the four-legged variety — sheep, goats, pigs and horses.
Around his home in east Langley, Horan listened to a chorus of sheep, and while driving back roads, he passed by many farms with curious goats.
“I’d stop and they would come up and they were talking in all these different voices,” Horan recalled. “They’re all different, they’re not just a herd. I wanted to take a deeper look at them. I started thinking, what if the goat, he or she, wants a portrait for the ancestors to admire?”
Rather quickly, Horan found out that barnyard animals “are not that manageable” inside a photo studio, so “the studio goes to them.”
But then sheep proved to be none too sheepish in front of a lens but antsy and anxious. Horan decided he needed a farm animal that could keep still for at least a 15-minute shoot. He approached Vicky Brown, owner of Little Brown Farm in Freeland, with a “kooky idea to set up a studio in your barn and take portraits of your goats.”
Twice a day, she milked her goats so they were accustomed to standing still to provide the ingredients for scrumptious soft cheeses.
Horan set-up a pop-up portrait studio that included a black drape background, diffusion umbrellas on tripods, strobe lights and medium format digital camera.
“It was Vicky’s job to get them into the light,” Horan said. “Sometimes we had to bribe them with treats. It’s not like they were posing.”
The results, though, are revealing, vivid and insightful, as if the animals had come into Horan’s studio and laid down some greenbacks for black-and-white portraits. As if they wanted, like humans, to capture time in a frame if just for a moment.
Curly Sue, Dumbledore, Ben, Jake, Sydney, Bella, Sherlock, Xenia, Xantippe, Luigi and Duchess — they have distinct names, distinct features and personalities— floppy ears, regal horns, curly heads, silky beards, forlorn stares, crooked teeth, sad eyes, defiant stances.
To some viewers, maybe they resemble a relative, an ex-spouse, a celebrity. Or maybe they are just creatures wondering why a human is flashing bright lights into their eyes.
To Horan, his neighborhood sheep began to resemble aristocratic country gentlemen and ladies deserving of nice studio portraits to put in their country homes.
“If you have a dog or a cat, you often wonder, ‘What are they thinking?’ So I looked at these animals the same way,” Horan said. “People think sheep are bland and dumb, but they’re not.”
Horan also set up photo shoots at New Moon Farm Goat Rescue Sanctuary in Arlington and at other small Whidbey farms.
Horan’s recent photos have been shown at galleries around the country to rave reviews and they are selling around the globe. His book is also printed in French and Italian.
As a staff and freelance photojournalist for newspapers and magazines for 30 years, Horan’s assignments ranged from hovering above dog sled teams in a helicopter to capture the Iditarod to following the transactions of a single dollar bill across the country.
His work appeared in Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian, The New York Times and he worked as a contract photographer with U.S. News and World Report covering presidents, natural disasters and features.
Horan has spent more years than he cares to admit rolling around in hay with farm animals. “I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for 10 years,” he said, laughing, “Shoot me.
“But I’ve met some great people and I’ve met some even greater pigs, horses, goats and sheep.”
Although he jokes about his passion project, it’s clear that Horan wants his work to help bridge the divide between man and animals that at one time wasn’t as vast as it is today.
“Goats and sheep have served us from the earliest of times,” he writes in his book. “They have walked the world with us. By paying attention, we honor the musings of the sheep and the jests of the goats. And so these pictures make a kind of meditation on our earthly brother-and-sisterhood.”
— Book signing and author discussion of “Goats and Sheep: A Portrait Farm” is 2 p.m., Sunday, March 10 at Ott & Murphy Tasting Room, 204 First Street, Langley. For more information: www.kevinhoran.com