Every once in a while, I come across a series of photographs that is so in tune with my own artistic vision and personal interests that I curse myself for not coming up with it myself. Most of the time it is something that I have turned over in my mind as an interesting idea, but quickly realized was totally impossible give my current education, finances, and occupation (is student even an occupation?). The project Shadow Within by Christian Houge is one of those projects that I wish so badly was my own. Houge photographs wolves. But it’s not your typical National Geographic photograph that was shot with a telephoto lens at long distances. On the contrary, many of the photos show just how aware the wolves are of Houge’s presence , and amazingly, how comfortable they seem to be despite him being there.
I’ve been in love with wolves since I was little. I remember being only 11 or 12 on a trip to Canada, where I watched in complete awe as a pack ran through the woods next to the road, silent streaks of grey that seemed to dissolve in and out of the trees. For me, the wolf has always symbolized the wild nature that we all have inside of us but choose to ignore and surpress. Additionally, the wolf has always been associated with evil and darkness; one only has to look at fairytales and folklore to confirm that the fear of wolves runs deeps in human society. Yet I would argue that part of that fear comes from the fact that we are afraid to admit how much the wolf reminds us of ourselves.
And this is why Houge’s project is so frustratingly perfect. It explores these issues that I have considered dozens of times. Wanting to get close to the animals, he had to take a safety course in order to learn their language and understand the signs they use. He had to let himself go.
“You have to face your fear,” he says. “They are in your face, and they have their tongue in your mouth, if they choose to come and greet you. This is how they get food from their parents when they are young. It is a sense of security, but it is their way of showing they’re in charge.”
Working with packs around the world and spending days at a time in the woods, Houge manages to get extremely close to these beautiful animals and in his images he shows us those wild elements which we all have deep down.
Houge believes that exploring our more wild side, our “shadows within,” is crucial in learning more about ourselves and how we interact with nature.
On his website, Houge writes, “I think the idea of Man trying to control nature as opposed to utilizing and respecting it, brings up a strong metaphor of how we humans deal with the environment we are a part of and dependant upon. Most people have their own reference to what the wolf represents, starting from their early childhood… I wish to explore deeper into Mans psyche and what we all can learn of our own shadow sides through this creature.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Oh, and to top it all off, the images are absolutely stunning. The black and white photographs, depicting flashing teeth and piercing eyes, have rich blacks and sublime midtones. Again, the project of my dreams.