Colbert believes that there is a shared desire for all species to participate in one universal conversation. He sees nature as the greatest storyteller of all and himself as an apprentice to nature. His works are collaborations between humans and other animals that express the shared poetic sensibilities of all species.
Scientists can help us understand the nature world by giving us the “how.” Colbert believes it is the role of artists in all creative disciplines to try to inspire a transformational “why.” He offers a non-hierarchical vision of the natural world, one that celebrates the whole of nature’s orchestra.
Just at the moment we are burning down what remains of nature’s living library, Colbert is creating an intangible library of the wonder of the natural world that reminds us of what is being lost. He began his thirty-year project two decades ago and he continues to work with animals on every continent, making his works the most comprehensive interspecies collaboration ever created.
Roger Payne, famous for the discovery of whale song among Humpback whales, said of Colbert’s work, “Gregory’s images return us to the sanity of our undeniable, unavoidable, inextricable connection to nature. And they do it with beauty, grace, lightness-of-being, strength. His images, like whale songs, are the last wild voices calling to the consciousness of terminally civilized humanity, our last contact with nature before we submerge forever in our own manufacture and lose forever the final fragments of our wild selves.”
Since 1992, Gregory Colbert has launched expeditions on every continent to collaborate with more than a hundred animal species and the people who share their native environments. His project has taken him to such places as Antarctica, India, Egypt, Burma, Tonga, Australia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Thailand, China, the Arctic, the Azores, and Borneo. Elephants, whales, manatees, sacred ibis, antigone cranes, royal eagles, gyr falcons, rhinoceros hornbills, cheetahs, leopards, African wild dogs, caracals, baboons, eland, meerkats, gibbons, orangutans, penguins, pandas, polar bears, lions, giant Pacific manta rays, and saltwater crocodiles are among the animals he has filmed and photographed. Human collaborators include San bushmen, Tsaatan, Lissu, Massai, Chong, Kazakh eagle hunters, and people from other indigenous tribes around the world.
Colbert explains, “I try to create a climate of trust that opens the way for spontaneous interactions with animals. You cannot chart the course of a whale, dictate the wanderings of a cheetah, direct the gestures of an orangutan, or choreograph the flight of an eagle. I spend a great deal of time studying the natural behavior of animals while being mindful of their individual personalities. I believe the Australian Aboriginals were exploring the same enchantments when they painted animals; they were not interested in merely painting the contours of their bodies. They also focused equally on the animal’s interior dream life. The cave paintings of the San from the Kalahari Desert in Africa and the art of other indigenous tribes around the world also demonstrate their ability to look at animals from the inside out. That is what inspired me to begin Ashes and Snow in 1992. Our perception of nature had been human-centric. I hope to see the world through the eyes of a whale, an elephant, a manatee, a meerkat, a cheetah, an eagle, and I have tried to leave the windows and doors open so that others can share the same amazement I felt during each work’s creation.
An amazing artist…Yes?!