At the Living With Animals conference in March, Alexandra Murphy’s talk “Specere and the Photograph: Co-Existing in Perpetual States of Preservation” was right before mine. As a person who’s incredibly uncomfortable speaking publicly, I so appreciated getting to look at and hear about Alex’s lovely and beautiful salt print photographs before having to get up before an audience and present my work. Of her art practice, Alex writes that she is “fascinated by the relationship between the photograph and the taxidermy specimen in terms of representations of death, permanence, display and preservation.” I am always drawn to photographic projects that focus on taxidermy and natural history museums, especially when the artist acknowledges that wonderful collision of the photograph, the taxidermy mount, and the viewer – all extensions of, respectively, life, the animal, and the human being, impermanent yet frozen in time. There’s something romantic about Alex’s Specere photos as well. Their process makes them feel wonderfully aged, as their pink hue makes them feel like special, unique objects to be adored.

From the artist’s statement: “Specere II: Fixing the Shadows” (2015-2016) was documented at the Natural History Museum in London. A recipient of a Royal Photographic Society funding award in 2015, the project explores the preservative relationship between the photograph and the taxidermy specimen through the salt print process. This was 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. Both the photograph and the taxidermy specimen are organic in nature, and so are 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 display case is an important compositional factor in each of these photographs – we cannot look at the specimen without first having to visually negotiate past its recognisable glass construct. The two-dimensional flatness of the photograph exaggerates this display frame as a noticeable visual barrier – it always reminds us what it is we are looking at.

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