I’m proud to present my 100th sneaker mask, made from Jordan 3Lab5s nicknamed the “Hellafant”.
I began thinking about this particular photo shoot before I even chopped the shoes. I wanted so badly to have an elephant included in the shoot, but being aware of issues facing the world’s wildlife I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. As a kid my grandparents took me to zoos and circuses, in the ’80s there wasn’t a summer that went by that I didn’t find myself riding on the back of an elephant. Being so close to such amazing creatures instilled an awe and respect at a young age. Nowadays animal rights activists have put an end to that. And while we all can agree that no one wants to see animals mistreated, what really happened in the case of Ringling Bros Circus who were forced to change their policy on elephants based on malicious & false accusations by animal rights groups. Read more from CNN, and USA Today:
“What’s particularly obnoxious about the litigation brought on by radical animal rights groups, including the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), is that it was summarily dismissed in court. In fact, these plaintiffs ended up paying Feld for bringing such outrageous claims. Just last year, the Humane Society and other animal rights groups paid a $15.75 million settlement to Feld after their lawsuit alleging elephant abuse was found without merit.
Two years earlier, the ASPCA was ordered to pay Feld $9.3 million after making false claims against the company in court. These groups aren’t just having their claims thrown out; they’re so egregious that they are compensating Feld and Ringling Bros. for their misdeeds.” –Jeff Stier
Luckily Ringling Bros has proved to be a class act and has used the money from that settlement in the best interests of the elephants. Their last 13 traveling Asian elephants will be retiring to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida.
In search of an elephant for my shoot I reached out to wildlife sanctuaries along the west coast. I got in contact with Dinah, the elephant manager at Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon. Just 6 hours drive from our new studio in Northern Cali, and Dinah informed me that their passion was conservation and educating people through exposure. And just like that I had an appointment with an elephant.
We got to Wildlife Safari on a rainy day – of course! I was worried that maybe the animals might decide to stay in, watch Netflix & Chill. But a playful cheetah pup near the entrance assured me that not even the cats around here were afraid of getting wet. The drive through wildlife safari took us on a course through lion and bear enclosures, past rhinos and bison, giraffes, antelopes and gazels. We were told to meet Dinah at the Elephant Barn, as we rounded a bend we knew we had the right place.
Inside handlers Dinah & Katie introduced me to my co-star – George, a 32 year old African Elephant, orphaned in the wild he has been at Wildlife Safari for 28 years. Like Ganesh, George was missing a tusk so I asked Dinah about it. It had broken off during normal use as often happens, both to tusks and to any tool that’s used for so many tasks. His particular break had happened so deep that he had to have the tusk pulled like a broken tooth. Between photo bursts Betsy and I talked more with Dinah about George, elephants and the dangers they are facing in the wild. I was struck to find out that 100 elephants like George are slaughtered in the wild each day, something I didn’t know when I chose to make an elephant mask as my 100th. The reason as many are aware of is their tusks, their ivory still fetches a high price on the black market. It’s important to keep spreading the message that if we don’t stop the sale and purchase of ivory we will see the last elephants die in our lifetime.
Much of the money raised at Wildlife Safari goes to further the conservation of elephants and other endangered animals. They are also one of the last places still around that you can have a safe and educational encounter with the world’s largest land animal. No photograph can compare to looking an elephant in the eye. I encourage you to discover the feeling for yourself, SAFELY (for you AND for the animals) if you’re in Oregon or even if you’re not, it’s worth the trip. Say Hi to George for us!
Each tusk/air canister contains a time capsule, the left containing an SD card – on it the digital files documenting the previous 99 masks. In the right, seeds representing the pursuit of light as well as the poem ‘The Fall of Giants’. Click here to read more about the symbolism between Left & Right. The poem, written by myself, reads as follows (you can click the links within the poem to better understand the references within it):
The Last Great Giants
Paleolithic pantheons of pachyderms
Time won’t soon forget.
But as the last great giants die,
We face one more regret.
While we curse Alpha and Omega.
Cast in conquest and 3 ring circus tents.
All the live long while, Ganesh silently laments.
We’ll be haunted by their memory,
Forgotten friendships with Tantor fade
As the final guardians fall.
For when the last great giants die,
So too has our hope.
Check out the gallery below, more photos will be releasing tomorrow as well!