Subscribe to Blog via Email
By Suzanne Révy, Associate Editor
The earliest practitioners of photography were scientists. Once the problem of fixing an image within the “camera obscura” was solved by Niepce and Daguerre, and in a slightly different way by Fox-Talbot in 1839, the medium became the perfect vehicle for 19th century scientists such as Bacteriologist Alfred Francois Donné and Botanist Anna Atkins. The invention of photography also coincided with the establishment of numerous museums devoted to natural history, presenting display cases and dioramas filled with botanical and biological specimens offering real world glimpses of exotic locales and animals. In presenting Traer Scott’s “Natural History” and Kate Breakey’s “Las Sombrasl/The Shadows,” the Griffin Museum of Photography has transformed itself, at least temporarily, into something of a natural history museum through December 2, 2019.
The salon style installation of Kate Breakey’s “Las Sombras/The Shadows” in the intimate Griffin Gallery immerses viewers into a world of rich brown tones among silhouettes of snakes, birds, rabbits and a few leaves and feathers. The strength of the presentation is twofold… the prints are varied in size and solid in their framing, which recall a 19th century arts and crafts aesthetic, yet the ephemeral nature of the shadows captured within each photogram poignantly reminds the viewer that life is transitory. Although the influence of Anna Atkins’ 19th century botanical studies is clear, Breakey’s images are not merely a catalog of specimens, but an emotional journey of life as it exists on this planet. She states that her images are “the ghostly shadows of the remains of living creatures, burned onto photographic paper with light and with love, to make a lasting impression.”
One could easily mistake Traer Scott’s images in her series “Natural History” as double-exposures, but they are not. Scott furtively photographed natural history museum dioramas around the country allowing the reflections of museum visitors to juxtapose with the exhibitions set behind glass. In one, two children appear to be snacking on sandwiches under the protective gaze of an ostrich, in another, a young girl appears ready to take a snapshot of a calf and cow among a herd of bison. Scott brings modern humans together with long dead and in some cases extinct species of animals, and raises questions about artifice and the natural environment. Can modern humans coexist with animals? Can animals adapt when their habitats are encroached upon? And there is inherent irony in the suggestion that a visit to the museum or zoo is the only way some make contact with the natural world. There is a sadness in both Scott’s simple premise and in Breakey’s fleeting shadows, yet each artist shares a reverence for animals and the science that deepens our knowledge and understanding of the natural world.
For more information, go to: