I honestly have little to say about Kellie Smith’s body of work, Undertaker, aside from an emphatic “Yes.” I felt that way so strongly when first seeing the images, and possibly even more so when reading the accompanying statement. I think this is a lovely, important, beautiful project. After featuring both Julia Schlosser’s and Mary Shannon Johnstone’s work examining companion animal death last month, and thinking a lot about the subject while working on an exhibition proposal the past few weeks, it felt so perfectly fitting to discover Kellie’s lumen prints made using the bodies of dead animals. All three of these artists have explored this heavy topic by making process-oriented photographs, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. There’s something about this taboo subject, the process of grieving an animal, whether it’s wild or a dear friend, that seems to drive artists to create something tactile, using a process that is physical and takes work and time and stillness.

From the artist’s statement: Two dogs, two cats, and a horse that I grew up with died the summer before this project. These pets were very dear to me and I have had many memories with them. The separation from them inspired me to look closer at the bond that humans and animals form. The pain that I feel from the end of their existence leaves me with a longing to bring back their presence, and motivates me to bring to life the aura or soul that I knew they possessed.

What if every animal was given the chance to form a relationship with a human, and therefore given the chance for their soul or spirit to be recognized? The purpose of my project is to bring animals’ presence of existence to a tangible form, especially if they were wild and never interacted with a human. In a similar way that an undertaker bee will carry a fellow bee back to the hive after it dies or is killed, I take the dead animals I find back to my studio, and attempt to humanize them and capture their being.

Many of the animals that I have access to died tragically on the highway and are battered, bloody, and broken. To overcome this grotesque imagery and express the beauty of their remains, I create lumen prints from their body. The photosensitive, black and white darkroom paper reacts with the animal’s biological components and illustrates the presence of their body. To honor the animal, their life, and their being, I adorn them with flowers and other components of nature. These elements pronounce the importance and beauty of the soul the animals possessed during their life. Much like a funeral undertaker will care for the body of the dead and exalt the deceased, I prepare the animal’s body for their final appearance, embellish them with flowers for a composition on the paper, then bury them in their final resting place.