Deborah Samuel


Her working protocol invariably results in an ever-present invitation into an inner world of unabashed integrity, emotion and oftentimes dark passion. Her various bodies of work are akin to biometric scanning devices that use visual forensic fingerprints, or the iris of the human eye with its complex of lines and patterns surrounding it to isolate one from another. Some may call that “signature” and “style.” Others identify it as “theory” or “conclusion.” Samuel uses the inner world— almost always her own—to tell a story. She is a photographer with a deep understanding of what she is setting out to photograph. Her work is deliberate and profoundly focused. The iconic mental image we collectively share of a team of archaeologists and their students shaking a screen with increasingly small holes in order to get to the treasures is what Samuel calls “problem solving.” In turn this has guided her diverse personal projects into a unified photographic vision. There is a very real sense that she is exposing “what was” in order to see “what is.” -Steven Heller, Black and White Magazine

"Her subject matter may vary, but her vision is firmly focused. Deborah Samuel is a photographer skilled in the bizarre and the beautiful." - Kodak Studio Light

"Photographer Deborah Samuel is a blurb writer's nightmare. With a prodigious talent that allows her to wander blithely, and successfully, all over the creative map, she defies easy categorization." - Peter Giffin, Applied Arts Quarterly

"Deborah Samuel confronts the glitter and glam of LA with her own stark vision," - Karl-Peter Gottschalk, Black & White Magazine (Australia)

"Much of her fashion photography would stand out in any gallery, while many of her art works have appeared on the glossy pages of such magazines as Interview, Esquire, L.A. Style, and G.Q. … Experimentation informs every aspect of her modus operandi." - Gianni Romano, Zoom (Italy)



“Throughout her work Samuel consistently captures the spirit of her subjects in a style that she has made her own. ‘You have to have a lot of patience and an ability to isolate the moments that best define the nature of the breed, but also the character of the particular dog. You need to be “in sync” to draw out these qualities, and it requires you being in touch with your intuition.’ ” - Dawn Sumner, British Journal of Photography

“Deborah Samuel is somebody with a profound sense of the grace to be found in the stillness of dogs as well as the motion…Whether it’s a muzzle or a tail, teeth or nails, a glistening feathered Irish Setter coat or the ridged back of a Ridgeback, or (always, always) the gaze, these photos will continue to compel.” - Christine Adkins, Modern Dog

“Her fascination with the characteristics of different breeds, her instinctual eye and her innate ability to move with each animal into a moment of photographic clarity have never faltered.” - Lauren Carter, Bark Magazine

“The resulting collection [dog] will melt the heart of even the most die-hard feline fanatic…” - Applied Arts

“The author of two elegant photography books, Dog and Pup, Samuel says she has long been 'obsessed' with dogs, particularly with their inner lives, whether they tend toward boldness, integrity, guilt, flightiness, belligerence, or even elan.” - Peter Smith, O The Oprah Magazine

"Samuel's work is informed by an eloquent and elegant sensibility, as well as a profound respect for her subjects.” - Bark Magazine

“It's impossible not to smile at the cover of this delightful collection of duotone photographs… This engaging vision invites you to explore further.” - Connie Ogle, Miami Herald

“Dog holds its own against the best fine-art books… 'Her printing is extraordinary,' says Andrew Wilkes, contributing editor at Aperture. 'She is in a league of her own.' ” - Jane Gottlieb, PDN

“Chiefly a photography book, Dog combines artistry and affection. Samuel's love for dogs emanates from her images…” - Ellen Kanner, DogFancy

“If you are not canine dependent this book will turn you into an instant addict. The brilliant pictures capture the character of each breed...” - New Zealand Herald

“Just one glance at Deborah Samuel's pictures reveals that she has an unique inside dog track. Even within each breed, each dog shows its own character.” - Herbert Keppler, Popular Photography

“Samuel's own relation with dogs keeps getting better. Dog, her first book of pooch photography…has had worldwide sales since being published last year. It is also short-listed for the third Roloff Beny $60,000 Photographic Book Award, along with the likes of Yousuf Karsh and Geoffrey James.” - Peter Goddard, Toronto Star

“Canadian photographer Deborah Samuel gives us two extraordinary photographic collections, Dog and Pup (Raincoast). Her photos brilliantly impart the engaging spirit of each breed, allowing each to speak in its own distinct voice.” - Hilary Iriam-Kelley, Flare

“Line, form, texture and light-these terms may seem more suited to a canvas than a canine, but Deborah Samuel's photograph collection, simply titled Dog, accomplishes an elegant communion between art and arf.” - Jason Stipp, DogWorld

“In elegant photo after elegant photo, each dog's special character, and the beautiful line formed by the body…is delivered in this book.”
- Dog & Kennel 

“A photograph stops me in my tracks. It is full of textures and sexy shapes…And so it goes, page after page of exquisitely printed black-and-white photos…The images become symphonic, enveloping me in joie de vivre from man's best friend.” - Connie Bloom, The Beacon Journal



“Elegy examines the extremities that exist within us.” The series is a conceptual postscript that strives to answer Samuel’s rhetorical question: “how is the darkness defined that exists around us? How do we discover all that lies beneath the beauty?” The skeleton is understood as the intermission, that mysterious dimension between “life” and “death.” It mesmerizes the viewer with all its complexity, representing the transition between substance and form prior to what inevitably becomes dust and memory. What had been a world of color, texture, and function, upon death becomes components bearing no path to truly understanding the preceding period of beauty and existence. The beauty that “was” becomes beauty “now” as forms project from a black void. The structure of “Armadillo.1” spirals into a composition of symmetry, grace, and subdued color. “Cardinal + Solitare.I” remain forever locked in a harmonic visual ballet. The yellow tip that accents “Barred Owl.I” anchors the understanding of what was once hauntingly majestic. - Steven Heller, Exile Editions

"In Elegy, Samuel at times animates bird bones as a child might. The mixture of playfulness and gentleness this evokes reminds me very much of those chapels in Italy and Portugal where the walls are lined with bones of monks. The spinal columns are often strategically placed along the ceiling supports and other bones are placed decoratively. The chapels were built with the intention to invite us to contemplate our impermanence, something I'm surprised to find myself doing among Samuel's images. Why do we dignify human tragedies with such fanfare, and ignore the tragedies of animals? Why honor one and not the other? A hundred years ago we had the clergy answering those questions. Since then other voices have grown louder-and some of them belong to artists."
- Janieta Eyre, Canadian Art

"She is clearly drawn to animals, their wisdom and beauty and the way they tell us something about human life. She explains the rationalization for her work as an afterthought. It's as if she feels first, and then allows herself to think later."
- Sarah Hampson, The Globe and Mail

"It was the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that originally drew Samuel to this theme. She had wanted to capture the plight of the birds caught in the event through normal photography, but with government agencies blocking access came upon this solution in its place. The inky blacks of the original oil may have been powerful the way it obscured and choked the birds, but now it becomes a background darkness that preserves Samuel's subjects instead. It reminds me of the amazing transformation our bones make, from being mere support structures at the very center while we live to external shells when all else is gone. Empty, except for a reminder of who we are."
- Kurt Abel, CTV NEWS

"Samuel said she not only tried to imagine the relationships these animals had in life, but more importantly, those they would've had if not victimized by the human-inflicted disaster. Within these creative representations of the phases of life and death in the form of skulls, spines, shells, horns and talons, is also a more objective, scientific perspective." - Matthew Wright, National Post

"Her latest body of work, Elegy, suggests the poetic intricacy of lives once lived. Rising above scientific documentation, the images reflect Samuel's compassionate consideration of the natural world. "After watching the oil covered birds from the Gulf Oil Spill try to figure out what had happened to them I really thought a lot about how this spill had not only impacted their habitat but also its impact on their interpersonal relationships with each other; how it affected their homes…..their relationships with their young. How would they look after each other now….and how this had impacted their daily structure and their relationship with others?" - Coey Kerr, Feature Shoot

"The resulting series of images capture a meditative and haunting portrait of natural fragility, a narrative of survival and death that speaks to the struggles faced by all living creatures. Depicting the beauty of the natural form and the complexity of the structures that sustain life on our planet." - Canadian Photographers Network

"Gothic, Darwinian, and quieting in its still reflection, the photography of Canadian artist Deborah Samuel captures the spirit of her subjects in haunting monochromatic likeness. "The only way I can describe it is that I feel things" says the artist of her work. "Its pretty important to me that whatever I'm shooting, I capture the essence of something." The poetic imagination of each photograph is anchored by the reality of life's fragility, transience and persistence: a narrative told through the image of rigid bones and shells belonging to creatures who have long since vacated their pulsating flesh. This desire to work with bird skeletons soon evolved into a great fascination with overall animal anatomy. As a ardent and long-time animal rights advocate, Samuel began further research into the animal world, satisfying a particular personal curiosity concerning their interpersonal relationships, examining how bonds were manifested. As seen in her photography, Samuel's interest in wildlife stems far beyond an animal's physical attributes; it is their emotions and the relationships they forge and nurture that holds her camera's focus." - Kristyn Tsampiras, Filler Magazine  

"Photo artist Deborah Samuel's lyrical images reflect the frailty of life. The work pares modernist photography literally and technically to the bone. Elegy embraces the Brancusi ideal of pure form, of image refined to its essence." - Canadian Art Junkie


The Extraordinary Beauty of Birds

When birds fly up above our heads and off into the vast horizon, it is not only profoundly beautiful, but an act of liberation, an “expression of life’s boundless possibilities.”
“These photographs of feathers and nests, eggs, and birds are the soaring conclusion to a meditation on what it means to be alive.”
Deborah Samuel

“Scientists can derive knowledge which is then shared with the museum’s visitors. Artists can achieve something else – they can, in a sense, bring a specimen back to life. Through their vision, the wonder and beauty of a bird that may have been dead for 150 years, is revived.”
- Mark Peck /Royal Ontario Museum

“Admiring these images gave rise to a new thought. When we try to create music, weave words, or capture visions with paint or lens, we are trying to make something as beautiful as nature. Deborah’s eye takes mine to the splendor of a feather, an egg, an intricately woven nest. We may have seen these objects before, but we have not seen them with this level of insight.”
- Neil Peart / RUSH

Most of the photos show a distinct detail standing out against a black background. On some pages, the iridescent black feathers nearly blend into the backdrop, save for the well-captured textures. On other pages, the colors pop so brightly, it’s surprising to think they’re from the natural world. A few full-body images possess a haunting stillness from creatures typically so full of movement and life. 
Elise Chen / Audubon California

For her new book, Samuel focused on finding what she considered the most important aspects of each individual bird. For some it may be strength, for others patterns, or just pure beauty, she says. According to Peck, Samuel’s photographs reveal an entirely new dimension of the museum’s ornithology collection. “Deborah’s work has brought back a certain life to the specimens,” he says. “It has given the specimens even greater value and, I believe, will inspire people to see the extraordinary beauty of the natural world.”
Nicole Wetsman, Science Friday

PHOTOGRAPHY can allow us to see things differently, offering
a new perspective on a familiar subject. So it is with this new
book. A particular favourite of mine is (Common) Pheasant. Ubiquitous in Britain, it’s easy to overlook this species, but the close-up image of the bird’s neck (from which it gets its alternative name of Ring-necked Pheasant) is stunning. With its iridescent blues and greens, splash of white and wave-like pattern, it’s reminiscent of the ocean.
Rebecca Armstrong, Birdwatch Magazine UK            

Birds serve as a poignant reminder of another sphere we cannot reach—so much so that their connection to heaven and earth has inspired folklore and myths in cultures across the world. "Part of the fascination," reflects Samuel, "is their freedom in flight. How often would we like to have that freedom in our own lives?"The book is an optic tour de force that challenges the viewer to reevaluate the inherent beauty in nature and the aviary world.
Nicole Haddad, New York Spaces Magazine 

What you read in the title is what you see inside the pages of this book: extraordinary photographs of feathers, eggs, nests and skins of birds from around the world but collected together in the Royal Ontario Museum. The images are astonishing because without the book’s title and captions it would be hard to believe that some of them were not computer generated. This is Nature imitating exquisite geometries and colours from the world of art and the result looks like some virtual reality created by digital technology until the box of text that accompanies each photograph is read. The text is meticulously empirical, making the image even more magical because the pattern and the colours are out there in the natural world.
Irish Left Review / Ireland

We are accustomed to seeing representations of nature mediated through the hand of man in books and museums, yet natural elements can stand alone as art. The intimate photographs in The Extraordinary Beauty of Birds: Designs, Patterns and Details offer eloquent examples from the avian world. The photographer Deborah Samuel states that the images in this book are a meditation on what it means to be alive and also serves as “portraits” of abstract ideas. The images were photographed from specimens in the Royal Ontario Museum’s ornithology collection and include details of feathers, eggs, and nests shot against a black background, which accentuates the elegance of the forms and the brilliance of the colors. Attributions and brief descriptions of the objects are provided. This volume will please the 48 million birders and may attract others to bird watching, if not in the field, then through the gifted eye of this photographer.
Jackie M / THE Magazine