Introducing The CowCam
Uschi, scratching herself on the leg, takes a picture of her udder. Fat Lola, who is mainly interested in eating, keeps her head down, which means the photos she takes are close-ups of grass blades.
Only old Frida shows considerably more artistic talent, because she looks around while chewing her cud and takes in the mountainous Swiss landscape. Her sharp-focused shots are of meadows and Alpine peaks, clouds, valleys and wild flowers.
"Frida is our star photographer," Christoph Sigrist, 59, tells Die Welt. It was seven years ago that the Swiss farmer from the half-canton of Baselland first mounted a self-releasing digital camera in a cowbell through which he'd bored a hole.
What began as a gag grew into a successful art project. Sigrist posted the pictures his cows shot on his website cowcam.ch, and he has just published the most interesting shots in an entertaining book called Cowcam.
What do the animals find interesting? The farmer's arrival. Flowers growing beyond the meadow fence. The milking stool. And because cows are sociable, they take many pictures of one another.
Sigrist put his cowcam together himself, using a Mr. Lee Catcam from the United States. It has an individually programmable release mechanism and was originally invented for use by cats. It is the only digital camera that self-releases at intervals that can go for an entire day without a battery change.
Slightly larger than a matchbox, it can take up to 120 pictures per day, one every seven to 10 minutes. Sigrist removes the camera-bells from the animals at night.
After a couple years of equipping his own dairy cows with camera bells, Sigrist found that animals' photo subjects were becoming repetitive. "Cows are creatures of habit," he says. "They have their favorite places where they lie down every day for a snooze."
So he began sending other farmers across Switzerland camera-equipped bells. They in turn hung the bells on their favorite cows and sent the chips back to Sigrist, who found that about every tenth shot was interesting. He has since published some 20,000 cowcam photos, and plans to continue in 2015.
The only shots he can't publish are those the cows take of walkers because doing so would violate privacy rights.