Field science research and the arts come together in a Princeton course using motion-capture cameras to record campus wildlife
What does it mean to always watch? Do animals deserve the right to privacy? Students in Princeton University’s “The Visible Wild” course asked themselves these questions and more this spring as they explored wildlife habitats on and near campus.
The Visual Arts/Environmental Studies course was taught by Jeff Whetstone, Professor of Visual Arts and Director of the Visual Arts Program. Students observed nature in person and learned wildlife surveillance photography techniques, using fixed cameras and remote video to observe animal populations and their behavior. They then used this “found” content from their ecological field research create works of art with an emphasis on what can be discovered by looking closely at the wildlife around us.
“Art is seen by many people as something you do with your hands or something beautiful that takes a lot of skill and practice,” said award-winning photographer and filmmaker Whetstone. whose work imagines America through the prism of anthropology and mythology. “In the visual arts program, we try to disabuse people of this notion, that it’s really your approach to the material, and in this case, the material is camera footage and video that you don’t have not even really taken.
At the Lewis Center CoLab in May, the class shared their final work in “(in)Visible Wild,” an exhibit that included paintings, collages, small installations using materials from the forest, and looping video footage from trail cameras.
They left the course with a feeling of wonder at all there is to see “when you take the time to observe a little closer and what you can learn from the wild world out there,” said Maya MishraClass of 2022 member and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology hub who also earned certificates in Global Health and Health Policy, and Planets and Life, and plans to pursue a career in Space Medicine.