Natural History is a series of completely candid, in-camera single exposure images which bring together both the living and the dead, creating allegorical narratives of our troubled co-existence with nature. Ghost-like reflections of modern visitors viewing wildlife diorama against the preserved subjects themselves, housed behind the thick glass with their faces molded into permanent expressions of fear, aggression or passivity.
“There are many tastes, smells and visual vignettes that I recall from my solitary summers spent in the Natural History museum: the Moonpies and Mountain Dew that I often ate as a mid-day snack, procured from a distinctly southern 1930’s lunch counter on the ground floor; the slightly fetid smell of the animals’ cages- mostly a mix of cedar and musk; wearing a Corn snake around my waist, coiled deliberately through my belt loops in meticulously planned casualness to impress visiting children; proudly and proficiently operating the temperamental levers of the manual service elevator that would often became stuck between floors; the hissing cockroaches from Madigascar who would emit a puff of air when you pressed on their armored backs… and of course the dioramas which I sometimes watched the staff construct or alter, but mostly just gawked at while lurking in the spot lit halls. Oddly enough though, one of the things that stands out the most about my long, shadowy summer days in the museum is National Geographic.
Either because they liked me or because no one really had the time to care, I had full run of the place including keys and punch codes. Behind the education rooms where my mother gave live animal demonstrations to groups of visitors was one of the museum’s informal archives rooms. At the front of the cluttered, windowless room was a tall bookcase filled with every issue of National Geographic since the 1890’s. At the time, I wanted to be an archaeologist (no doubt influenced heavily by Raiders of the Lost Ark) and so for years I had associated all things “old” with mystery and treasure. I was immediately drawn to the magazines’ obvious age and antiquity: the crackled, yellowing covers, thick fibrous paper and fascinating photos. I don’t recall reading the articles at all and don’t even know that I was interested in who or what the subjects were, I really just craved the photographs. I hungrily analyzed the clothing and the environment in the images and was possessed by the notion of staring into the eyes of long dead people. I still do this. As an adult I began collecting Victorian photographs and still feel the same uneasy fascination with holding the subject’s gaze. It is the same sort of disquiet I experience when looking at dioramas.
When I rediscovered dioramas through the Natural History series, I felt a sense of satisfaction and completion, like perhaps a few of the loose ends from my youth had been neatly tied up and even finally made themselves useful. An argument could be made that this series is a celebration or remembrance of a time of quiet discovery for an introverted child. Alternatively, it could also be a way of mourning a very difficult time in my life when my family was falling apart and I learned to seek solace alone, valuing things that other children had no time for.
The rest of my childhood is not nearly as clear as those summers at the museum, I remember very little from the next several years. People, school and home life are vague at best but I do remember that the sense of solitude never really left me.”
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