A domesticated Silver Fox at home in St. Petersburg, Russia, 2011. (Vincent J. Musi)

Domesticated and bred for extreme aggression, these rats are part of genetic study in Novosibirsk, Russia, 2011. (Vincent J. Musi)

Each year in June, a merry band of photography lovers descends on the quaint downtown strip of Charlottesville, Va. to indulge in the three-day photography festival Look3. The festival has become a grown-up summer camp in many ways for photographers, photo editors, and photo agents to unite and celebrate the photograph through intimate talks, seminars, and viewing pop-up photo exhibits displayed throughout downtown Charlottesville.

The idea for Look3 emerged after a group of photographers and photo editors started gathering in the backyard of National Geographic photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols each summer to explore new and old work via a slide projector. “The only requirement at the time for entry was that you had to bring slides,” says Vincent J. Musi, one of Look3’s co-founders, a famed National Geographic animal photographer. “The local dentist might show up one evening carrying a box of slides and you could see his photos followed up by a someone like Sally Mann.” Eventually the number of guests at these backyard gatherings swelled into the hundreds and became the photo event Hot Shots before later evolving into what is now Look3: Festival of the Photograph.

In addition to being the festival’s co-founder and regular MC, Musi will take up another role as one of the featured speaker at this year’s festival on June 11, when he unveils his new series “Estuary,” a landscape series about the undeveloped estuary between Charleston and Buford in South Carolina.

Musi, who first began with National Geographic in 1992, spoke to In Sight recently to talk about his famous series “Domesticated” which takes a deeper dive into the science behind domesticating animals. All of the animals photographed for the series are alive; none of the featured animals have been stuffed.

Look3: Festival of the Photograph starts June 10th-June 13th.


Mae, a Vietnamese Pot-Bellied Pig, shares a home in West St.Paul, Minnesota. (Vincent J. Musi)

A rescued wolf. Wolves are the wild progenitors of all dogs. (Vincent J. Musi)

Musi initially wanted to be a cultural photographer, someone who photographed people and societies. “National Geographic is a place of specialties,” Musi told In Sight. “There are people who specialize in nothing but cold weather or bugs or ants. I was trying to find my space, and what I wanted to be was someone who did cultural photography. Somebody who photographed people in relation to their place: Route 66, Texas Hill country, cultural stories.” But Musi took a different route one year when he purchased a home filled with critters.

Musi on how ‘Domesticated‘ was conceived:

One day, I left Geographic for awhile and I came back , re-branded a bit and began tinkering with animals. I had purchased a house and it was inhabited by animals. Raccoons, birds etc. I needed help getting rid of them and I  found a guy who was good at that sort of thing. Turns out he had all of these exotic animals living with him at home, including an albino raccoon.

With ‘Domesticated ‘ it’s about interesting photos of things that are hard to describe. It became about the challenge of trying to get someone engaged in someway about a boarder issue. making a story about things that are going to make people become invested and want to learn more. I also just needed to make really cool pictures. We started with a story about cognition, and then somewhere it became a piece about how domestication was the single most important advance in modern man. And that grew from looking at man to looking at domesticated plants and animals.

There are only about 100 species of animals that have been domesticated. You can domesticate a horse but you can’t domesticate a zebra. Things happen to animals. They change; their morphologies and color changes. We looked at chickens, billions and billions of them. Wolves are still around, but all dogs came from wolves. Dogs are still evolving and getting smarter on the level of great apes.


A variety of miniature dairy goats with their owners at the Indiana State fair, 2011. (Vincent J. Musi)

Canine cognition studies at Duke University show dogs are becoming more sophisticated at reading human cues than apes, 2011. (Vincent J. Musi)

There are few wild horses left in the world. One of the first domestications of them occurred in what is now Kazakhstan in approximately 4,000 BCE. Here horses are still milked and bred for food, 2011. (Vincent J. Musi)

4H competition at the Indiana State Fair. (Vincent J. Musi)

There are few wild horses left in the world. One of the first domestications of them occurred in what is now Kazakhstan in approximately 4,000 BCE, 2011. (Vincent J. Musi)

We know that Neolithic man domesticated animals for food but not how or why? Pigs are one of the few domesticated animals still hunted in the wild for food. (Vincent J. Musi)

The piebald coat of a dairy cow is one of the physical changes that happen to animals as a result of domestication. (Vincent J. Musi)

Selectively bred dogs on the hunt for bobcats in central South Carolina with their owner Toddy Smith, 2011. (Vincent J. Musi)