The Norwegian photographer Per Maning began making regular trips to an aquarium on the west coast of Denmark to photograph a group of seals in 1988. These photographs are one part of a much larger project Maning began in the early ’80s, when he photographed every day of the last three years of his Labrador Retriever, Leo’s, life. The photographs of Leo, never sentimental and often startling, did not document physical decline, but revealed the dog’s identity, energy, and spirit, and reflected the growth of Maning’s own self-awareness in the process.
Since then, Maning has continued to photograph animals. He spent one entire summer photographing cows in a pasture, and months and months photographing pigs on a farm. For the last eight years he has returned to an aquarium in western Denmark to take pictures of a group of seals. His toned black and white pictures, as elegantly abstract as they are eloquent, represented Norway in the last Venice Biennale—they are instructive. Seated on the dry side of a sheet of thick glass, Maning has patiently watched the seals swim and float by and made pictures of them, not as anthropomorphized zoo “victims,” but as creatures whose existence reminds us of the psyche of the animals in each of us.