Scientific field research and the arts come together in a Princeton course using motion-capture cameras to record campus wildlife

Written by
Steven Runk, Lewis Center for the Arts
July 15, 2022

What does it mean to always be watching? Do animals deserve the right of privacy? Students in the Princeton University course “The Visible Wild” asked themselves these questions and more this spring as they explored wildlife habitats on and near campus.

The visual arts/environmental studies course was taught by Jeff Whetstone, professor of visual arts and director of the Program in Visual Arts. Students watched nature in person and learned techniques of wildlife surveillance photography, using remote still and video cameras to observe animal populations and their behavior. They then used this “found” content from their ecological field research to create works of art with a focus on what can be discovered by looking closely at the wildlife around us.

“Art is seen by a lot of people as something you make with your hands or something that’s beautiful, that takes a lot of skill and practice,” said Whetstone, an award-winning photographer and filmmaker, whose work imagines America through lenses of anthropology and mythology. “In the Program in Visual Arts, we try to disabuse people of that notion, that it’s really your approach to material, and in this case the material is camera images and videos that you didn’t really even take.”

In the Lewis Center’s CoLab in May, the class shared their final work in “(in)Visible Wild,” an exhibition that included paintings, collages, small installations using materials from the forest, and looping video footage from the trail cameras. They came away from the course with a sense of awe for how much there is to see “when you take the time to observe a little bit more closely and what you can learn from the wild world out there,” said Maya Mishra, a member of the Class of 2022 and an ecology and evolutionary biology concentrator who also earned certificates in global health and health policy, and planets and life, and plans to pursue a career in space medicine.

The Visible Wild from Lewis Center for the Arts on Vimeo