Photographer and senior lecturer at the University of Tennessee Diane Fox addresses our objectification of nature and aims to “distort the illusion of the diorama” in her series UnNatural History, where she’s captured exhibition displays in over 27 museums and galleries.
The ongoing project first began after Diane photographed a diorama at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Michigan. “The diorama showed an underwater view of a pond. What drew my eye to it was how poorly it was constructed. The plastic at the top representing the water was bent and a harsh light shone through it. A plastic-looking frog was stuck up into the water’s surface, its head obscured from view,” explains Diane. “I took the shot thinking the image would show me what my eyes were seeing but a very different image resulted. The photograph transformed the imperfectly modelled diorama into a magical underwater space.”
With such a difference between what Diane saw with what was captured by her lens, the photographer was curious to look at the subject again and has since photographed displays across the US and Europe.
“My approach to the dioramas has changed as I have photographed more and more museums. It has been a process of discovery. I came to the project interested in the line between the real and the constructed,” says Diane. “Dioramas, for the most part, are beautifully constructed and work to let the viewer experience an animal within their natural environment. At the same time, they are utterly fake, with painted backgrounds and stuffed animals. It is the animal’s skins which are the most ‘real’ and the animals themselves, that seem the most animated within the scene.”
By using a deep depth of field, Diane plays with perspective and blurs the dimensional elements into one single field. The painted scenes and the stuffed animals that reside in them start to look as though they’re flat layers placed together, so there’s an appealing collaged feel to Diane’s images. “Adding in the reflection enhances this layering of information and complexity within the photograph,” she explains. “Also photographing the animals so that they look into the camera’s lens is another way to bring life to their forms.”
Through her images, Diane hopes to “point out the unreality and the disconnection within the human/animal relationship”. “I wish the viewer to initially read the image as natural and to remain inside the image, discovering new and sometimes disorientating elements, which help them arrive at a new understanding of the photograph’s meaning,” she explains. “It is the dichotomy between the real and the unreal, the version of life portrayed an the actuality of death and the inherent beauty of the animals within their fabricated environment.”
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