Colleen Plumb, artist, photographer, and videographer

by | Dec 6, 2018

Colleen Plumb—the Chicago-based artist, photographer and videographer, whose work explores the relationships people have with animals (particularly, captive ones)—recounts growing up in the Rogers Park area of Chicago, where her Dad cultivated in her an appreciation of nature, and where there was a family dog (and for a time, a family duck, Sir Francis Drake). Plumb also recalls receiving a Bell & Howell camera when she was about 12, and taking all kinds of pictures. (The emphasis on animals would come later.) She went on to become a graphic designer, realized she missed photography, and decided to enroll in graduate school, earning an MFA in Photography. Plumb explains she became drawn to photographing animals, interested in examining how we as humans connect with them, use them, exploit them—this culminated in her photography monograph, “Animals Are Outside Today.” Continuing on that thematic path, and, she explains, struck by seeing the conditions the elephants endured after (and probably during) a performance by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, she opted to focus her work on this iconic animal, alongside a medium-shift from photography to video. Plumb discusses traveling to some 75 zoos, filming elephants exhibiting stereotypy, a behavior only seen in captive animals, and which includes rhythmic rocking, head bobbing, pacing, etc. She stitched together much of this footage, yielding what became “Thirty Times A Minute” (a reference to the resting heart rate of an elephant)—which, since 2014, Plumb has projected outside on buildings located from Chicago, to Berlin, Paris, Reykjavik, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Plumb often stands in the areas where the piece unspools, engaging in conversations with bystanders—she shares stories of such conversations at the very first projection in Chicago and, this year, with a Reykjavik resident who gave her the okay to project on the side of her house. She outlines projects on the horizon, including a new work about a polar bear, and a new book featuring her photos and essays from authors, due out in 2019. PHOTOS BY COLLEEN PLUMB (


ALSO: I spoke with Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice, the entomologist and author of “Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants” series (and, more recently, co-author of  “Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Spiders”). She’s twice been a guest on the show, and I invited her to return to weigh in on the then-new New York Times Magazine cover story, entitled “The Insect Apocalypse Is Here,” an extended examination of the drastic decline in the bug population worldwide.


COMEDY CORNER:  Ellen DeGeneres’ “Nature & Insects” (portion)  (

MUSIC: Rebekah Pulley’s “Talking Animals Theme,” instrumentals

NAME THAT ANIMAL TUNE: We didn’t play “Name That Animal Tune” today.


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Otis McGarr
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