For thousands of years, animals were an integral part of our daily lives. It is only in the past two hundred years or so that we have moved farther away from our agrarian origins. As we have become increasingly disconnected from the land, its creatures, and its fruit, many of the values and much of the wisdom that comes from a personal relationship with the earth has been lost.
The Year of the Goat project was a reaction to this growing disconnect. It was an attempt by two people to throw off the sterile synthetic shackles of city life, where we forget that meat, faceless and wrapped in cellophane, ever came from a living animal, and that fruit and vegetables don't grow on grocery shelves or in sidewalk bins.
Goats, as versatile an animal as has ever lived, open the world of agriculture to us. Valued for their meat, milk, fiber, companionship, land clearing and fertilizing capabilities, goats offer a leap into all of these aspects of agriculture and more. People who raise goats are passionate about their animals, and have held onto or reclaimed the ideals of earlier generations. The fact that goats exist on the fringe of mainstream livestock and agriculture and are more often than not raised on a relatively small scale enables us, as observers, to get closer to these people and their animals, and allows us to absorb a little bit of their wisdom.
Goats are found in every corner of this country, and as we travel to those corners to find them, the country reveals itself to us. What begins as a journey into the world of agriculture evolves into a discovery of America through the lens of the goat: from organic cheese makers in rural Washington state to the fromagier of a four star restaurant in New York City, from a cavernous mohair warehouse in the heart of Texas to cottage industry spinners in central Maine. Along the way we find the goat at the center of cultural intersections taking place between local producers and growing immigrant populations, creating interactions and fostering understanding where before there was no common ground.
My work draws inspiration from the great photographers of the Farm Security Administration photographic unit, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, and profound influence from The Americans by Robert Frank. Garry Winogrand's amazing photographs from New York City zoos and aquariums set the standard for studying the distance between urban man and the animal kingdom, and inspired me to make photographs that achieve the opposite result.
The decision to shoot in color was made to remind the viewer that the people and places depicted are not examples from history books of what was, but living examples of what is and what can be. Shooting in two formats, 35 mm digital SLR, and two and a quarter color negative, generated visual variety in my shooting style and allowed me to speed up or slow down the photographic process as the situation demanded. Additionally, shooting digital facilitated one of the other goals of the project, which was to promote the goat and educate the general public
through our website, www.YearoftheGoat.net.
I bring to my work a curiosity for the world around me, and my enduring belief in the power of photography to inform, engage, and truly shape this world. I hope that people will leave this exhibit thinking about their own connection to the land and the plants and the animals that they share it with. Beyond that, I hope that through the versatility of the goat, each person might find some inspiration to go out and make a connection in deed as well as thought.
-Karl Schatz, October 2004
Karl Schatz is a photographer, picture editor, web designer, and journalist. He is currently the Production Manager for the Aurora Photo Agency in Portland, Maine. Before embarking on this great goat adventure, he was the online picture editor for Time Magazine. He received his BA in Soviet and Eastern European studies from Tufts University, and his MA in Communications from the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University. From 1992-1993 he lived in Moscow and worked on the documentary project, A Culture Rekindled: Jewish Traditions Return To Russia, while shooting for clients such as Reuters, The Montreal Gazette, The Moscow Times, and The American Embassy. In 1994 he traveled to Poland to document the creation of Warsaw's first Jewish day school in 45 years. Karl was born and raised in Maine by his extremely supportive parents, Bruce and Nancy, and has one sister, Enid, who just returned to the States from South Africa. He is a member of the National Press Photographers Association, The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Slow Food and Red Sox Nation. When not chasing goats, he lives in Portland, Maine with his wife, Margaret, and their dog, Godfrey. They are currently looking for a farm.