New Jersey photographer Kimberly Witham just sent me a few images of her work. These animals are not taxidermied but roadkill, which she picked up on her commute to work. Her images are so beautiful and she finds so many dead animals that I had to ask her a few questions about her work.
You say you collect your animals by the side of the road? Where do you live to find so many animals in such beautiful condition?
I live in High Bridge, New Jersey which is in the Northwest part of the state near the PA border. I commute from my home to Newtown, PA for work several times per week. (I teach at Bucks County Community College). I have come to realize that I live and work on the border where the intense suburban sprawl of both the Philadelphia and New York suburbs begins to give way to preserved farmland and some amount of woods and wilderness. It seems to me that there is an inordinately high roadkill incidence in this area. As far as finding animals in good condition - I guess I am always looking. I can spot a dead sparrow out of the corner of my eye while driving 60 mph.
What do you do with the animals once you are finished with the photography?
The animals in my photographs are all buried in the woods in my backyard. I try to give them a respectful end.
Your earlier work resonates with the silent power of things and the images are totally absent of animal life (human or otherwise). How did you find yourself to begin working with animals?
This is a tougher question to answer. I will start by saying that I have never been interested in photographing people and I have always been an "animal person." When I moved to NJ from New York, I was horrified by the number of dead animals I saw by the roadside. It began with the deer. During the fall mating season, I generally see anywhere from 3-6 dead deer per day on my way to work. In this area, they have road crews who spend the day picking up the corpses. The next day, there are more. I began photographing the deer on site as a sort of catalog or pseudo-scientific study or census. The rest of the work developed from that point.
While I have a strong interest in animals and the natural world, I have never wanted to be a nature photographer in the traditional sense. When I began working with road kill, I realized that the bodies of these creatures had a very powerful resonance for me. With the photographs in the Transcendence series, I hope to create tension between seduction and repulsion - to create seductively beautiful images which upon close inspection reveal that the animal in question is dead. I always surpises me to see how long it takes the average viewer to realize exactly what he/she is seeing. From time to time, I am asked "how did you get those animals to pose like that??"
Like Transcendence, Domestic Arrangements mixes the beautiful with the grotesque. The source material for these images is a combination of vanitas painting, natural history dioramas and Martha Stewart. I find there is a very peculiar relationship to nature which exists in the suburbs - deer are lovely in the woods and fields but not when they eat the tulips, bird feeders are great as long as birds eat the food - when a squirrel intrudes it is considered a nuisance, raccoons are very cute until they get into the trash cans, etc. I decided to take this one step further, using the creatures as a type of decoration. I joke that these images are a visualization of the dioramas that would be constructed if Martha Stewart and Carl Akeley had a love child. Interestingly, museum dioramas while essentially 3-D sculptural installations are ultimately viewed in a manner closer to that of a photograph. The viewer is on the other side of the glass looking in - he/she is not allowed to enter the space.
What is going on in the image with the deer on the bed with the ghost arm?
The Deertown series is the first body of work I created once I moved to the suburbs. It was a direct response to the number of dead deer I was seeing by the roadside. I will copy the statement for that series below. The images from the first part of Deertown are no longer on my site, they are photos of the deer by the roadside. The second part (the photos on the site) are digital composites. In these images, I combine images of roadkill deer, photos from hunters and taxidermists and interior home images from catalogs and magazines. The ghost arm image is a combination of a hunting photo (you see the hunter's arm) and a spread from a home magazine. The title is "Luxe" it is from 2007.
I should add that one of the deer's antlers was knocked off when it was struck by a car. See more of Witham's work here: http://www.kimberlywitham.com/kimberly_witham/Kimberly_Witham.html