Animals, music and nature

Trombones, clarinets, conga drums, sousaphones, pink trombones, bells…
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A squirrel "plays" its respects. Photo by Paul Kober.

Instrument repairman and photographer Paul Kober walks through his Holland home listing musical instruments in different states of decay that are arranged throughout his front and back yards. He stops to point out a prop: “Microphone over here that was used with the squirrel singing into it.”

A Holland transplant, Kober photographs the wildlife he attracts to the broken instruments he places in his Illinois and Michigan yards.

“I had a broken bass clarinet body and I thought, ‘Why don’t I just put it outside?’ So I saw a branch — I shoved it on the branch and a squirrel went on it. Then a bird.

“I went, ‘Oh, that’s kind of cool.’ I just took a quick snapshot, so that started all this.” After receiving encouragement from a photographer to sell his unique photos, Kober opened an online print shop.

“I always say that especially now with AI, anybody could do it. But the animals are actually there.”

“Waiting for my cue to play,” by Paul Kober
“Waiting for my cue to play,” by Paul Kober

Music

All kinds of musical donations end up in Kober’s hands and yards. As a woodwind instrument specialist, Kober works mainly on oboe and flute repairs. English horns, bassoons, and saxophones go through his workshop as well, but the irreparable donations are salvaged as photography props.

“People give me stuff all the time. I know I have over a hundred,” Kober says. The entropy archive is beyond his count. “I have crazy obscure stuff and there’s things I haven’t taken pictures of.”

He has a couple sets of squirrel-sized children’s toy bagpipes, but their quality isn’t for outside exposure. A couple of rainfalls and the instruments fall apart, so Kober is selective of the days he places sensitive pieces outside.

Animals

Kober’s mind contrives possible poses for each animal he invites to “play” an instrument. Every shot has a vision behind it.

“They have to be with their hands in a playing position. Otherwise, it’s not a picture.” Like any photography, some editing is done but no animal has been added digitally. Coerced onset with treats? Definitely.

“I’ll set my stool up there,” Kober points 40 feet behind us towards a fence. “And I’ll wait for them.”

One photograph can easily have 90 hours of dedication behind it. In “Waiting for my cue to play,” a deer stands in front of a drum — its neck and head at just the right height. It took Kober two winters for the perfect shot.

“Cold Duck Time” by Paul Kober.

Walking towards a suspended trumpet, Kober says, “You can see I put the bird food on there (a plastic container was mounted onto the trumpet) so they land on it and go to it.”

Kober uses broken music racks to suspend some of the instruments, and a small wooden table as a platform.

“This way, I can position it however I want with the proper backgrounds, and I’ll be out here taking pictures,” Kober says as he continues towards the table. “Actually, the microphone and the squirrel singer [photo] was on here. Also, the bugle [shot] was on here.”

No stranger to their diets, Kober purchases food year-around.

“It’s animals, nature, and music. Oh my god, it’s a lot of money,” Kober says, “I mean, the food.” He estimates about an hour each day, five times a week is spent refilling the food stations and changing their water.

Two squirrels squeeze in for a “jam session” on an old accordion.
Two squirrels squeeze in for a “jam session” on an old accordion.

Nature

Kober’s parasocial relationship with the animals is, by his regards, undefined due to the serendipitous photo path: “Whether it’s good history or not, we don’t know yet.”

Kober’s tour continued into his home studio and workshop.

“I’ve got prints here on the floor, all up on the wall.”

While he’s not doing art shows anymore, Kober has dreams of joining galleries. For now, Kober’s art is available through his third party print-on-demand online shop. A print of a squirrel “playing” the trumpet, another of one “singing” into a microphone, and a photo of a female and male cardinal above a French horn is popular.

“I shoot other things as well. All I really display are the animals,” Kober says. “It’s like 50/50 — animals and my other stuff.”

The trip of a lifetime

A photography trip to Norway with friends in October of 2023 led to the shot of a lifetime. The Viking photography workshop consisted of two Viking models, two leader figures, and four photographers of which Kober was one.

It was when visiting a reindeer farm that Kober’s vision came to be. A Norwegian friend had asked Kober what he wanted out of his photography trip.

Two downy woodpeckers pick at a banjo in “Dueling Downys.”
Two downy woodpeckers pick at a banjo in “Dueling Downys.”

“I said, ’The picture I want is a reindeer playing an instrument.’ But it had to be an instrument [from] that area. It’s not going to be a trumpet… It had to be a natural instrument from Norway. And we’re north of the Arctic Circle.

“Well, the things they use there all the time are horns,” Kober said. “So I actually brought that from here to there, because I had one.” Kober packed the horn in his suitcase for the trip and ended up gifting it afterwards. Capturing the photograph was enough. “There’s actually a picture of the Viking playing it, but that’s another story…”

As for inspiration, Kober doesn’t have to look far past his yard. Photographing his four cats — aptly named after jazz musicians — and a rare-but-spotted pileated woodpecker are on his list. With his neighbor’s eyes and his own confirmation of the bird, Kober knows it’s a matter of attracting what you want through the game of patience.

“That’s the big ultimate goal — pileated woodpecker. It will not be Photoshopped in place.”

paulkoberphoto.com
kobers-repair.com

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