What’s another word for “fierce?”

Photography from the PAM collection and Walton Ford’s wolf paintings

“Fierce” may describe our dedication to animals as beloved pets, and to some extent, our desire to keep working animals healthy and dependable. We wouldn’t necessarily apply the adjective to our dependence on them as food nor our appreciation of their inherent aesthetic value. All of these elements are represented within the photography exhibit, “Fierce” at Portland Art Museum. But what is largely missing is a representation of the what makes these animals ferocious. Actually “fierce.”

I do not recall seeing any particularly fierce animals in this grouping from the museum’s archives. Cats, donkeys, goats, birds, yes; maybe a couple of pissed-off dachshunds, but no lions, tigers or alligators. The reason for this might very well be because humans don’t really have a relationship with the latter other than an adversarial one.

I have to backtrack a little on that assertion. Not the adversarial part, but the representation of predators. There are two bobcats: one limp and being held up by the scruff for the camera (Mark Barnes, “Devery Freeman, Rogue River, Oregon) and a taxidermied specimen in a display cabinet (more on this later). These animals are just prey.

I suppose if one is unaccustomed to seeing dead animals on a semi-regular basis, the dead, scrawny cat in Barnes’ photo might draw the eye to it, much the way the gaze of the young boy in Carol Yarrow’s “Boy and Bird” contemplates the dead animal he holds in front of his face. After all, death allows a comfortable distance from which to contemplate such beings.


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