Marian Drew is often contacted by people interested in giving her dead animals.
Blame it on Drew’s elaborate still-life studies of dead animals (mostly roadkill) called “Still Life /Australiana (2003-2009).”
“As soon as I had the first exhibition, people said, ‘I have this beautiful bird, would you like to do something with it?’ ” Drew said.
Drew was inspired to create the series after visiting a museum in Germany that exhibited paintings of dead animals. When she returned to Australia and was surrounded by roadkill, she was immediately reminded of the paintings and began working on the series.
“You sort of grow up with roadkill in Australia, and people—me included—try desperately to ignore it,” said Drew. “[Doing the series] seemed like a way to translate the situation of animals dying as a consequence of our dominance of the environment.”
Drew initially started photographing the animals in groups, similar to classic paintings that depict a bounty collected from a hunting trip. “Then I decided I wanted to give significance to each animal, so I shot them as individuals,” Drew noted.
“You can’t get a closer connection than the kitchen table for intimacy or relevance to our lives. … I tried to make them [the animals] beautiful with lights and a slower exposure, so they have a bit of a glow about them,” said Drew.
The kitchen also helped to bring the idea of death—both the animals’ and our own—into the work.
“It was important to take the animal out of its environment, to decontextualize in order to help us see things in areas where we are not used to seeing them,” said Drew. “And also seeing them in relation to our lives—death is always out there; it’s not just somewhere else.”
Drew shoots film “for all my serious work” using a 6-by-7 medium format camera. “I’m finding the massive amounts of images taken with digital doesn’t mean more is better. The slowness and purposefulness while working with film has a really important place, forcing us to make judgments—and the quality is still superior.”
The reaction from those who have seen her work and the consequent offerings of dead animals isn’t something that has surprised Drew.
“It became a way for the community to acknowledge death and to give some sort of importance to a life rather than just having it get run over by a car, get squashed, and then disregarded,” said Drew.
She has been given small birds, pelicans, bandicoots, penguins (“one died on a beach south of Sydney and somebody brought it up to me”), and even an emu.
“They [emus] do get killed in roads, but this one died on an emu farm, a very ethical emu farm, during a fight, so it died of natural causes—if you can say an emu can die of natural causes on an emu farm.”