1000Words is a column that features Bloomberg Photo Service photographers and their insights into how they got the shot.
Canadian photographer Brent Lewin relished his time on the farm for this great image — milking cows, getting cow saliva all over this lens and leaving with fresh cow dung on his shoes. — Jane Hwang
1000Words: This is such a great photo! I really like the expression on the other cow in the upper left, too. Can you tell us a little of the backstory and how this particular photo happened?
Brent Lewin: I was doing a shoot at the Loewith dairy farm in Lynden, Ontario, Canada. After spending a lot of time in the milking parlor, I wandered into the barn where almost 400 cows live. Many of them were eating through the fence, but the light inside was pretty poor, so I set up a mini studio using a softbox and another off-camera flash. Most of the cows were shy, but this one (whose name is Manifold) got right in my face and kept trying to lick my lens.
1000Words: Was any of your equipment covered in cow saliva after this?
BL: Yes, I got quite a bit on my lens during the shoot, I guess cows like the taste of Canon.
1000Words: How was your time on the dairy farm? Were you in tall rubber boots?
BL: I had a blast. I love animals, and I hadn’t been on a farm since I was a little kid, so it was a real treat for me. I think the Loewiths could sense my enthusiasm for it, so when they offered to let me help milk the cows, I put my camera down and suited up. It was pretty interesting to see all the cows line up for their turn in the milking parlor; they seem to really enjoy it. I learned that cows are very timid but curious. Any time I moved around them, most would flinch and shuffle away. (I don’t think they realize how much bigger and stronger they are than me.) But once a few of them got used to me, they would follow me around everywhere, sniffing me and my gear and trying to lick my face. The Loewiths gave me some plastic booties to fit over my shoes. Unfortunately I tore both somehow, and my shoes (along with my bag and tripod) were covered in fresh cow dung by the end.
1000Words: You split your time between Canada and Asia, what’s the greatest difference between the two places? Are there any similarities?
BL: Well, it’s hard to generalize about Asia, because it is so diverse and full of contrasts and contradictions, which is part of what makes it such a great place to shoot. But one of the things I think stands out is the feeling that the pace of change there may be faster than anywhere else in the world. With China emerging as a global power, Myanmar opening up for the first time in decades and other countries following their own development paths, there is a feeling that the region is being hit with a tidal wave of globalization and Western influences that are colliding with a vast amount of deeply held traditions and perceptions. How the two coexist and adapt to one another is really fascinating to experience and observe. This happens in other places, of course, but my sense is that it may be more acute in Asia right now. At the end of the day, however, both places are made up of people living their lives and trying to get by, and it’s the people that make for good stories wherever you are.
Specs — Canon 5D Mark II; 16-35mm; f/11; shutter 1/200th; Profoto Acute D4 light with a Chimera softbox and Canon 580EX flash
Brent Lewin is a Canadian photographer based in Bangkok and Toronto. His work has been featured in such publications such as National Geographic, the New York Times, Newsweek and Time. His on-going documentary work on the vanishing culture of elephant-keeping has been awarded by Pictures of the Year International, Px3, the International Photography Awards and American Photo. More of his work can be viewed on his site: www.lewinimages.com