Taxidermy and Photography

In recent decades, taxidermy and other preserved animal parts have begun to appear in a surprising amount of contemporary art.  Taxidermy has become a potent medium to discuss a variety of pressing issues: the contours of the line between humans and other animals, questions about conservation and species loss, and more basically to provoke deeply enigmatic encounters with the natural world.  The thing is recognised as an animal, but the nature of the encounter is less clear. 

Many photographers are also using taxidermy in their work.  Oddly, taxidermy adds an eery quality to animal photography... a sort of double death. The animals are too still, even for photography.

 

Saturday
Mar032012

Kimberly Witham

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

Wednesday
Jan052011

Marc Cellier

I recently came across Marc Cellier's nocturnal scenes of the French countryside in which a few familiars are made strange.  The scenes are illuminated by street lights in village on the outskirts of Paris. Apparently Cellier acquired the animals from hunters in his native Cévennes region.  Read more on ARTINFO here +

Friday
Aug132010

Karen Knorr

Have you already seen Karen Knorr's photographs from her Fable series.  If not, you should because they are remarkably beautiful, crisp, and haunting.  Here is a little sampling.

Her photographs use taxidermy as well as live animals, analog photography as well as some digital remixing, which gives the scenes an unreal hybrid sort of reality.  From here Knorr's website:

"The usual aim of the fable is to teach a lesson by drawing attention to animal behaviour and its relationship to human actions and shortcomings. Animals in fables speak metaphorically of human folly, criticizing human nature. Yet it seems that the nature of Karen Knorr’s work has another aim. In  Knorr’s  “Fables”  the animals are not dressed up to resemble humans nor do they illustrate any explicit  moral. Liberated, they roam freely in human territory  drawing attenton to  the unbridged gap between nature and culture.

To see more of Knorr's photographs, visit her website at http://www.karenknorr.com/photographs/fables/

Tuesday
Jun152010

Nicolas Lamas

An amazing artist I`ve just stumbled upon: Nicolas Lamas.  I'll be posting a more complete view of the amazing photographs of Nicolas Lamas in the next few days, but here is a brief preview:

Wednesday
Mar032010

Fox, Flames, and Chesterfields

I wish I could show you Jody Fausett's image of a stuffed fox beautifully posed in front of a chesterfield engulfed in flames or a lonely fawn sitting on a vinyl sofa with a remote control by her side.  But I can't.  The gallery's website won't let me download the images. You can however see Fausett's images here: http://www.whitespace814.com/artist_jody.html

Wednesday
Mar032010

Danielle van Ark

Oh my goodness ... my new favourite taxidermy photographer!  Check out the beautiful work of Amsterdam artist Danielle van Ark.  See more of her work at http://www.daniellevanark.com/index.html.

 

Monday
Jan182010

Martin d'Orgeval

 

As many of you may already know, on February 1st, 2008 at five in the morning, a fire burned through Deyrolle, the famous Parisienne collections of natural history.  The above and below photographs are by Martin d'Orgeval's appropriately titled Touched by Fire series was featured in my new favourite paper The Drawbrige which had the following things to say:

"Martin d'Orgeval's photographs show the animals and insects that survived the disaster in situ, against a background of charred woodwork in the shop that had been their habitat since their "natural" death. The objects and the location form an entire work, the result of a strange, unique process in which creation, conservation and destruction have followed on from one another – a process completed and given closure by photography."

A limited edition of d'Orgeval's photographs are available here at http://www.artbook.com/9783865218551.html

 

 

Thursday
Jun042009

Mary Frey

Several years ago, Mary Frey was captured by the sad beauty of old, perhaps neglected taxidermy at the Springfield Science Museum.  In turn she captures that emotion on film with an ambrotype process that mimic the gentle fragility of the creatures themselves.  In her own words:

Photography invites us to pay attention. It describes with economy, precision and detail. It enables us to stare, scrutinize, and become voyeurs. Taxidermy allows us to do the same. Its complete replication of an animal’s stance, gesture and look provides us a way to study and comprehend its existence. Yet I find that these animals, often portrayed in suspended animation, seem simultaneously strange, ghostly and beautiful. Their gaze is both familiar and unknown. I intend this work to move beyond what is merely seen to the territory of the imagination, where what is remembered and known is transformed into something new.

Check out her website here + http://www.maryfrey.com/fauna/index.htm#title  to see more of her taxidermy works.

Monday
Feb232009

Richard Barnes

A few images from photographer Richard Barnes' phtographic series entitled Animal Logic. See all of his photographs here http://www.richardbarnes.net/animallogic01.html