Sunday, September 11, 2005

Independent on Sunday: Body And Sole

The Broader Picture, by Keith Laidlaw
Photograph by Ingo Arndt: opens in a new window

When we think about important parts of the body, we rarely consider the soles of our feet. Perhaps it's a case of out of sight, out of mind, but they carry us almost everywhere we humans go. We may have planted flags on the moon, but the footprints left behind seem a more poignant and fitting memorial of our visit. And in the animal kingdom, where feet tend to arrive in numbers of more than just two at a time, soles must be even more important. The tracks that paws and hooves leave behind in soft ground have been familiar to man from the days of the hunter gatherers onwards, but the bottoms of the feet themselves are seen far less often.

German wildlife photographer Ingo Arndt has set out to change this by revealing the hidden world of toes, pads and claws in a series of remarkable pictures of the undersides of animal feet. His project took in lizards, birds and mammals and, while each species is obviously different, each individual foot is also as unique as a fingerprint. Almost all of the animals were found in zoos (except for the leopard he somehow coaxed into posing for him on a farm in Namibia), and they ranged in size from an African elephant to the tiny lizard pictured. Indeed, the foot of the Madagascar day gecko (Phelsuma madagascariensis) is only about 1cm wide in real life.

"It was very difficult to photograph because geckos are very fast," explains Arndt. Placing it on slippery glass so that he could see it from below didn't slow it down either, because geckos have around half a million tiny hairs on each foot that let them cling to even the smoothest of surfaces. "And it's not easy to find really beautiful, colourful gecko feet," he continues. "Geckos are all colourful from the upper side, but from below they are, most of the time, just grey."

The effort was clearly worth it, however, as the images won Arndt third prize in the Nature Stories category of this year's prestigious World Press Photo awards, marking another small step towards man's understanding of the animal kingdom.