During the summer of my ninth and tenth years, my mother, in lieu of hiring a babysitter, kept me captive in our hometown Natural History Museum all day…everyday. She functioned as a vibrant and quirky volunteer curator while I spent very long, solitary weeks communing with the museum’s animals, both living and dead, as well as operating the ancient manual elevator for employees and rummaging through the museum’s disheveled collection of mite riddled, century old periodicals and books housed in a private storage. I have since harbored an immense affection for all things old and musty and mysterious, particularly preserved animals whose half dead/half alive presence is at once fascinating and unnerving.
In 2008, during a long anticipated visit to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, I accidentally created an intriguing image while “snapshotting” their dioramas. A reflection of my husband, inadvertently rendered in the glass and framed behind a large ostrich, gave me pause. A few months later, I began to frequent diorama exhibits around the country furtively aiming at capturing these narratives. It is both exhilarating and humbling to be the catalyst for these truly alchemical images which are set against a century old stage and born of random timing and fractured light.
Natural History is a series of completely candid, in-camera single exposure images which merge the living and the dead, creating allegorical narratives of our troubled co-existence with nature. Ghost-like reflections of modern visitors viewing wildlife dioramas are juxtaposed against the taxidermied subjects themselves, housed behind the thick glass with their faces molded into permanent expressions of fear, aggression or fleeting passivity.
The animals in these dioramas were collected (and killed) by “naturalists” primarily in the late 19th and very early 20th century. Specimens donated to or bought by museums delivered information and exotic delight to the public in an age long before motion pictures or widespread travel. “Collecting” was an extremely popular gentlemen’s hobby in the Victorian and Edwardian years however, the lust for amassing and categorizing flora and fauna, even with the intent of increasing scientific knowledge, often granted adventurers carte blanch for extermination. After decades of over-hunting, climate change, poaching and destruction of habitat, many of these long dead diorama specimens now represent endangered or completely extinct species.
Link to the series in Square Magazine