On the Cover: “Zebra #2”

To illustrate the cover of the January/February 2013 issue of Orion, our editors selected Santa Fe, New Mexico-based photographer Brad Wilson’s image “Zebra #2,” from his Affinity series. We asked Brad, whose work has been published around the world, including on the covers of over 400 books, about the creative roots of his remarkable image.

Can you tell us about the origins of the zebra? Where did he or she come from?

When I first imagined this series, I began thinking of the most iconic animals, the ones that occupy a prominent place in human consciousness. In general, animals have always been powerful archetypal symbols—whether as objects of worship or fear or dependence—and through many millennia our relationship to them has been complex. For whatever reason, zebras are part of this more iconic group, and I definitely wanted to include one in the series. I found this particular subject on a wildlife ranch in southern California.

There’s a sort of gorgeous stillness to this image, and yet, at the same time, a suggestion of explosive life. What sort of feeling do you hope viewers of this series will take away from these images?

It was important to me to achieve a sense of intimacy and proximity with the Affinity subjects, as well as an unexpected visual connection. That was absolutely primary. I spent a long time on set with each animal, waiting for that fleeting moment when stillness, mood, and composition come together to reveal something uncommon.

From my perspective, there is a deep beauty in this precision. I hope the viewers experience some of this as well, and perhaps find their own unique insight—like a feeling of “explosive life,” for example.

Why the plain black background? Were you trying to isolate something here?

The black background brings the subject forward and isolates him or her from the normal environment. I wanted to give the viewer a distraction-free space to inhabit with the animal, if only for a moment. When you look at a photograph of an animal on the savannah in Africa, for example, you’re a voyeur of sorts—you’re seeing the creature in his or her home, a place you don’t live or fully relate to. I wanted to remove all of that and present my subjects as equals, so the viewer could connect to them in a new way.

Can you tell us more about the Affinity series? Why is it called Affinity?

The title of the series refers to the spontaneous feeling of connection, the “affinity” I experienced while working with my subjects. I think many of us have this powerful, inherent reaction. The animals engender an amazing sense of relationship that is primal in its roots and profound in the moment.

What are you working on these days?

I’m still working on Affinity to a certain degree, but also on a project called Intrusions, about the impact of humans on the environment.

The complete Affinity series—including a fascinating behind-the-scenes video—can be seen at www.bradwilson.com. All photographs are available as limited edition prints through Doinel Gallery.