Yana Wernicke’s photos show the unique companionship of animals

Can humans and other animals really be companions? Our dogs don’t understand where their food comes from or why we’re taking them to the vet. Our cats don’t know where we go during the day (and vice versa). We don’t know what it would be like to see the world as a cow or a crow. There are power gaps and confusion.

Yana Wernicke’s work reminds us that compassion can cross these abysses. Her wordless picture book, simply titled partner, showing the touch of a pig’s ear against a human leg, the firmness of a cow’s belly, the feeling of a shared existence under the trees. We see animals born to be killed, but their emotional and physical existence is now embedded in human life.

© Yana Wernicke

© Yana Wernicke

Wernicke, 32, was influenced by the work of John Berger, the art critic argues that humans are increasingly distancing themselves from other species but still yearning to be connected with them. The photos show Julie and Rosina, two German women, and several cows and pigs they rescued at separate locations across Germany. The interspecies tenderness is so alien that it’s almost a magic trick.

“I was really intrigued by the animal touch aspect and how animals touch back. Of course, we humans touch with our hands, but it’s interesting to see how a cow touches back,” Wernicke said. “There’s a lot of leaning and opening up vulnerable areas of the body.”

ARRIVE animal rescue is a commitment, a change to the way we live. But just to talk about companionship is a positive act. That’s right when Elliot Katz – aptly named – founded the San Francisco Animal Welfare charity in 1983 and campaigned for pets to be called “animal companions”.

© Yana Wernicke

Katz trained as a veterinarian at Cornell, nearly getting fired for refusing to perform surgeries on live dogs. When campaigning, he sometimes deals with people calling themselves “pet guardians” as a compromise. His view is that animals are not only seen as possessions, but as sentient beings with their own needs. He believes that when this happens, fewer people will be discarded by their “owners” and fewer people will die in shelters.

Katz, who died in 2021, has enjoyed some success in California, though today many animal lovers prefer to call themselves the “parent” of dogs and cats, a term that doesn’t go far in the recognition of animal autonomy. Legal systems still struggle with how to deal with subjects that are neither physical nor human.

© Yana Wernicke

© Yana Wernicke

Creating companionship with livestock is a more difficult question. Berger himself romanticized the way farmers in the French Alps raised and slaughtered pigs. Most of us, living in cities and towns, are not used to seeing or touching livestock. we assume pig and dirty, brutal, uncared for cows. We wouldn’t want to stain our clothes, expose ourselves to a kick in the side, to break norms of behavior. Close observation can change this view. “I see a lot of similarities with my dog,” Wernicke says. “I wanted to show that there wasn’t too much of a difference.”

She had previously examined German colonialism in Cameroon, which led her to the collection of dead animals in the archives of German museums. Influenced by the philosopher Vilém Flusser, she also tried following animals — donkeys, wolves, cats — in the Italian Alps, led by them, and in doing so she wrote his own path.

© Yana Wernicke

Even in cities, far from farms and wolves, we still have a chance to make friends. When I work on the computer at home, my cat often jumps on the table and nestles between my arms. When I step outside, my eyes often meet squirrels and foxes. However, how different our experiences are, we are spending time together — and that act forms the basis of friendship. Sometimes we feel lonely, even though we are surrounded by other people. The company of other animals – foxes, frogs, even pigeons – is an antidote.

partner invites us to draw similarities between our bodies and the bodies of the animals we eat. It asks us why we can’t get closer to other species. Is it too out of place to keep their skins, soiling our feet in the mud? Yes, and no. We are not rescuers, Julie and Rosina, but perhaps we aspire to be.

Henry Mance is the FT’s lead writer and author of ‘How to love animals‘. ‘partner‘ published this month by Loose Joints

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