‘Not only does (the photograph) commonly have the fate of paper (perishable), … it is still mortal: like a living organism, … it flourishes a moment, then ages…Attacked by light, by humidity, it fades, weakens, vanishes, there is nothing left to do but throw it away’ [Roland Barthes]
Specere II: Fixing the Shadows (2015-2016) was documented at the Natural History Museum in London and explores the dialectical and preservative relationship between the photograph and the taxidermy specimen, through representation and medium.
This has been explored through the salt print, one of photography’s earliest processes, a process that William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839 described as, ‘the art of fixing a shadow’. Fraught with its own fragility and susceptible to aberrations, the salt print process presents an alternate possibility in my exploration of the relationship between museum specimen and photograph.
The two-dimensional flatness of the photograph exaggerates the taxidermy specimen’s display frame as a noticeable visual barrier – always reminding us what it is we are looking at. We cannot look at the specimen without first having to visually negotiate past its recognisable glass construct. Philosopher, Walter Benjamin used the term, Gebrochenheit (disjunction) to describe what is lost in the translation from the original. That is, we recognise and have to consider the detour between the taxidermy specimen and the animal it once was.
Both the photograph and the taxidermy specimen are organic in nature, thus temporal. They are also both the results of preservation techniques, in an attempt to fix and capture nature’s transience – acts of defiance against ‘flat death’ (Barthes). The salt prints are printed on 12×10″ cotton rag paper and wall hung in simple wooden frames.
This project was the recipient of a Royal Photographic Society funding award in 2015 – my report can be read here.