Probably my earliest experience of taxidermy is as something mystifying and spooky. It was always exciting to see, especially in an artfully lit natural history museum exhibit, but it was also a little scary to be so close to an animal that I had never seen before, that in its life was wild and dangerous. When looking at the images in Catherine Marcogliese’s series Natural History: Ghosts and Monsters, I can’t tell if the animals look more terrifying or terrified. Like “bad taxidermy” tends to be, some of them are funny. But the animals pictured also make me sad. I imagine the creatures making these expressions as their lives were taken, trying to fend off an attacker or in sheer pain or fright, and now that’s all that’s left of them.

Marcogliese’s photos were taken at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Marseille, France, Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Toulouse, and the Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia, Italy. It’s interesting to consider how styles and practices in taxidermy shift over time or from one region/country to another. I feel like animals used to be depicted as taxidermy in a way that highlighted their aggression and power. Now (and in America), we seem to crave ways of seeing animals that remind us that we are not so different, that they are not beasts but beings with souls akin to our own.

From the artist’s statement: This series of photos attempts to capture the surprising and often bizarre creatures that populate the display cases of museums of natural history. The skulls, skeletons and stuffed animals, with their frozen horrified stares, remnants of passed exploration and classification, tell us as much about our society and our relationship to nature, as they do about the science. They are the haunting witnesses to an era when nature was strange and frightening, something to be controlled, classified, and catalogued.

The photos are presented as portraits, and reworked to accentuate the strangeness of these creatures. I have tried to capture the wonder and awe that I experienced as a young child when visiting museums of natural history. I remember these museums as being dark, dusty, and mysterious – their displays seemingly inhabited by creatures from some gothic fairy tale. The ghostly presence of these specimens in my photographs reflects my tenuous memories of these visits.

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