There are two kinds of people in this world: those who have a heart attack when they find a burmese python in their living room, and those who only start panicking when their python is missing. Housebroken, a series of photographs collected into a book by Minneapolis-based Areca Roe, focuses on the latter: individuals who choose to share their life with strange and exotic pets like snakes, parrots, and pigs.
Roe says she originally started photographing exotic pets because she wanted to explore the mystery of the symbiotic relationship between humans and animals in a domestic setting.
“I wanted to photograph pets that were a bit more unusual, some of them wild-looking or wild-seeming, because these kinds of relationships were more mysterious to me,” she says. “What does each party to the relationship, owner and pet, get out of it? It’s not as clear and established as our relationships with cats and dogs. Their wildness served as an intriguing counterpoint to their domestic environs, so I was also inspired by that visual and conceptual clash.”
For the past few years, Roe has been driving around Wisconsin and Minnesota, traveling to the houses of exotic pet enthusiasts to photograph their furry (or slithery) friends. Some of the pets she finds out about through social media; others she reads about and cold contacts. The many odd reptiles she has photographed were mostly sourced from the member list of the Minnesota Herpetological Society, a group of avid reptile and amphibian lovers. She has photographed domesticated chickens, pot-bellied pigs, angora rabbits, wild finches, wide-eyed marsupials, and many more, including, of course, more cold-blooded reptiles than you can count.
What are the weirdest animals Roe has encountered? “A few I had never heard of, such as sugar gliders, which are sweet and smart little marsupials,” she says. “The oddest thing about the pot-bellied pig I photographed was how normal he seemed—exactly like a dog. He was social, cuddly, responsive to commands, and slept in the bed with the owners.” Some pets weren’t quite so cute, though. “The most intimidating one was perhaps a giant albino Burmese python. She was huge, and it was daunting to be a few feet from this powerful snake that could likely kill me if she felt the need.”
What kind of person decides to share their life with an exotic pet? Roe says most are just like any other pet owner. “I think I expected some of them to be motivated more by the status symbol of having an exotic animal, but in every case the owner seemed to be honestly fascinated by their creatures, and have much affection for them,” she says.
That’s not to say, though, that a few of them weren’t–uh–a little weird: one woman kept as many as 50 reptiles in her room. “Every room excepting the bathroom and kitchen had stacks of terrariums and cages,” Roe remembers. “They dominated the whole house, including a big basement filled with the creatures. Her power costs were formidable since she had to have heat lamps on many of the cold-blooded reptiles.”
You can purchase a copy of Housebroke directly from Roe’s Etsy site for $22.