Ward Roberts marks Valentine's Day with a photo series of real-life hearts

Updated 14th February 2018
Stars that paint (2015-2018) by Ward Roberts
Credit: Ward Roberts
Ward Roberts marks Valentine's Day with a photo series of real-life hearts
Written by Shachar Peled, CNN
Some people love red roses on Valentine's Day. Others prefer a box of chocolates. But how about a real, raw heart?
New York-based artist Ward Roberts has chosen the most romantic day of the year to publish a new photography collection showing animals' hearts floating in a pale void. Created in collaboration with Irish folk musician and poet Fionn Regan, the series "Stars That Paint" is part of his ongoing exploration of the organ's literal and metaphorical properties.
"Stars that paint" (2015-2018) by Ward Roberts.
"Stars that paint" (2015-2018) by Ward Roberts. Credit: Ward Roberts
And although Roberts was "often met with cringey-ness" when discussing the project, upon seeing the images many people considered them to be "soft" or even aesthetically pleasing, he explained in a phone interview.

Affairs of the heart

Fascinated by their complexity and beauty, Roberts has been documenting hearts since 2015. As well as addressing breakups and falling in love, the project is intended to tackle serious issues like heart failure and Ward's own, literal experience with heartache -- the 31-year-old was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (or arrhythmia) when he was in his 20s.
"My left heart chamber doesn't beat correctly -- it's like a jazz song with no consistency," he said.
Roberts morbidly acknowledges that succumbing to the heart condition is how he "might go." But despite the increased risk of stroke, the artist has decided to poke a little fun.
His photos also examine the dichotomy of the heart -- the way it reflects both sadness and joy -- by combining dark undertones with a light visual softness. As seen in Roberts' previous photo essays, which have covered topics including abandoned sport courts and solitary beachgoers, the use of color-muted pastels give his subjects a gentle, rainbow-like quality.

No animals harmed

Sourced from roadkill, the hearts featured in the series came from 20 different species of animal, including goats, deer, horses, raccoons and even an ostrich. But despite their varying sizes, Roberts was struck by how similar the organs seemed: "A tiny little chicken's heart is simply a smaller version of a larger one."
His attempts to obtain a human heart has proved less successful, however, with requests to a number of hospitals and morgues turned down.
Roberts photographed hearts from various animal species.
Roberts photographed hearts from various animal species. Credit: Ward Roberts
"It's not a conversation people expect to have. They were uncomfortable," he recalled. "There is a lot of politics behind it. Maybe in the future it will be possible."
And -- just in case you thought romance was dead -- Roberts' has revealed that the concept of the project is to dedicate the pastel-hued photos to each of his previous relationships, making the collection an accumulation of his experience of falling in and out of love.