Shelby Meyerhoff

Anderson Gallery
October 27 - February 21, 2024

Shelby Meyerhoff

In Zoomorphics, I paint my face and body, and photograph myself as creatures inspired by the natural world. The resulting images draw attention to our interconnection with all living things.

Through my work, I explore both the joy and the vulnerability that come with being alive on this planet. Zoomorphics is not only about radical empathy for other species, but about recognizing our commonalities and our shared peril in a time of environmental destruction. In the midst of climate change and other crises, humans are not only a threat to life on earth, but also an integral part of the solution.

While some of the creatures alluded to in my work are from faraway places, others are inspired by what I encounter on my walks in the woods near my home. Being present to our surrounding ecosystems, and all that lives within them, is an important part of my practice and message. Zoomorphics is not a eulogy. It’s a call to engagement, to being in nature and celebrating our place within it, and to protecting what remains.

In this series, I am painter, performer, and photographer.

Before painting on myself, I collect reference photos of the animal, plant, or other element of the natural world that I will embody. From these, I make preparatory sketches in a variety of media, including paint on paper and digital drawing.

Then, to transform myself, I apply professional-grade face and body paint, cosmetic glitter, and hair color spray. I paint in front of two mirrors, a tabletop mirror (for detail work) and a full-body mirror. Once painting is complete, I have become a new creature, and assume the poses and expressions of that creature for the camera. I shoot in my home studio, in front of solid-color cloth backdrops. My camera, an Olympus mirrorless 4/3, is mounted on a tripod, and controlled wirelessly by my iPhone.

Because I only have one afternoon or evening for photographing before I have to wash the painting off, I usually take hundreds of shots, to ensure I get the right one. Often I will pause after a period of shooting to look at the images on my computer, then return to make changes to the lighting, backdrop, or pose, before taking more photographs. This process of painting on myself, performing, and photographing can take up to eight hours.

At the end of the day, I may feel that one of the images truly evokes the living creature or natural place that inspired it. But sometimes, I return to the same subject over the course of several years, making more sketches, transforming myself again, and setting up the performative and technical aspects of the shoot in new ways, until the creature I’ve become and the resulting photograph are fully impactful.

It’s an exciting moment when I see in Lightroom the final photograph for the first time. It usually provokes a visceral reaction, moving me to smile, laugh, or stare. And in that moment, I recognize exactly what this creature is that I have created, how all the different parts of my process brought it to life.