A Photographer On the Creatures That Saw Him Coming

Ed Panar
Ed Panar
On W. Maple Road, 2004

Animals That Saw Me, 2011

Ed Panar hardly ever photographs people. Most of his work throughout his 16-year career is of objects—tree roots, construction cones, clothing lines and ashtrays—the things he found while wandering through the streets of Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and elsewhere. From time to time on these lonely walks, Panar came face to nose with an animal. Without knowing why he was doing it, he began photographing them. “I came up with a policy,” he says. “If a dog was going to bark at me, I was going to take its picture. If you can bark at me, I can take your picture. You know?”

Three years ago, when Panar was looking through his body of work and thinking about what could be his next project he noticed a trend: he had countless photos of animals looking straight at him. “Sometimes I wasn’t even aware,” Panar says. “I felt I was alone, but all these creatures were observing me.” Animals That Saw Me is a photo book collection of the interactions Panar experienced with animals throughout the years.

Panar says his photos capture the fleeting moment of acknowledgment between species. “That’s what makes these photos interesting to me,” Panar says. “We don’t really know what they’re thinking—and that’s part of the point. We don’t know what we look like to them or what the world is like for them.”

His work was not always without hazard. Panar recalls one occasion when he was walking along a bike path in Pittsburgh, on his way to a freelance job. He decided to stop and take a photo of a goose. “The next thing I knew, I felt his feathered wings smacking me in the side of the head,” he says, recalling the goose attack. “The goose won the battle for the bike path so I decided to go a different way.”

Panar never had any pets as a kid, which might be why he pays so much attention to the animals many of us might hurriedly pass by. He just got his first pet, a cat named Mo that he cares for with his girlfriend. “It’s been a revolutionary experience to see an animal in my space every day,” he says. Fittingly, the book is dedicated to Mo.

Animals That Saw Me will be published November 15th by The Ice Plant

Kayla Webley is a Writer-Reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @kaylawebley or on Facebook

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