Per Maning’s (1943) art is focused on the digital mediums of photography and video. The reoccurring themes in his works are the relations between human and nature, with a focus on the biological and psychological similarities that forms a bond between humans and other species.
In 1988, Maning patiently portrayed a group of seals in aquariums, which are toned black and white photographs represented Norway in the Venice Biennale in 1995. As they swim by the aquarium glass, as elegantly abstract as they are eloquent, they do not seem as animals anthropomorphized zoo victims. They are represented as creatures with soul and psyche, whose existence reminds us of the animals in each of us.
When viewing Maning’s work, one notice how he creates a fine line between man and nature, by mainly portraying animals we keep in our homes, farms and zoos. Maning began portraying animals in the early 80’s, when he started photographing his sick Labrador retriever, Leo, every day of the last three years of his life. Two of the photographs from this project are represented in the permanent collection at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. In addition to reflecting the growth of Maning’s own self-awareness in the process, the project reveals the dog’s identity, energy and spirit, without documenting his physical decline.
In his art, one can recognize this connection, and see how the identity of human beings are not only reliant on gender, race and nationality, which are the rules of structure in modern society. Maning’s view on the discourse of identity states that it is created upon us to accept ourselves as a species amongst other species. Only when we begin to do this, we will be in one with nature and be at ease with the course of life.
In his later work, Maning takes interest in the human body, both in black and white, or in light pastel of colors. Some photographs depict parts of the subject’s bodies, taken out of contexts and shown in an almost deconstructive manner. He also portrays full-figures, however, their personal details does not interest Maning, because of his idealistic view on human relationship to nature, he does not give the portraits of people any higher status. One can recognize this by noticing his ongoing determination in precise form and technique.