By Elisabetta Silvestro
Brian Churchwell was hiking in the East Bay utility district when he noticed a herd of cattle pasturing the hills above Orinda.
It was winter and there was a fire. He just took one photo that turned out to be a picture of five cows, forming a V, surrounded by smoke, looking straight at the camera.
Churchwell was intrigued and decided to go back in the Spring, when the hills were green, to look for the cattle.
He decided to photograph them as a project for his Spring 2014 intermediate digital photography class.
“I just wanted to make pictures that are nice to look at,” Churchwell said.
He also wanted to do a project close to home, Orinda.
Churchwell went back again and again to watch the cattle, study it and, eventually, shoot it.
For two or three weeks he went up on the hills, looked for them, and when he would find them, he would wait, and watch.
“They are curious, they come toward you,” he said. But never too close, he added. They are also shy.
Every time, Churchwell would stay for about four hours, shooting and waiting for the cattle to notice him and approach him.
“One cow came close enough and licked my shoe,” he said. But that has been the closest encounter.
At the end of the project, Churchwell wound up with hundreds of photos of cattle. He submitted some of them to win the coveted $500 Yefim Cherkis Scholarship.
He didn’t win, but he was proposed to exhibit his work at City College’s Gallery Obscura.
“I was looking through the student submissions and saw Brian’s, Orinda Cattle,” Gallery Obscura curator Renee Tung wrote in an email. “I was drawn to it immediately, I think because of the mutual respect that is very apparent between the photographer and the subject. This is not something you see very often with animal photography, let alone cows … Brian has made them individuals and thus powerful.”
The collection of photos is displaying at the space until Oct. 8 and comprises portraits of 10 different cattle, all looking straight at the camera.