Photographer Traer Scott spent most of the summer before she turned 10 hanging out in the North Carolina Museum of Natural History where her mother worked as a volunteer curator.
Her memories of that time are “warm and dreamlike” when she had the run of the museum and enjoyed the behind-the-scenes access that made her “feel vital and empowered.”
Years later, during a trip to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Scott took a photograph of a diorama and her husband’s reflection ended up in the shot. Intrigued by the juxtaposition, Scott began a journey photographing diorama exhibits around the country looking for similar imagery.
The results make up the series “Natural History” and are currently on view at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Ore., through June 30 and will travel to the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel, Calif. on August 24.
From a photography point of view, Scott sees the series as one of anticipation but also happenstance.
“Essentially, I hang out in front of dioramas that I really want to feature and wait for people to approach,” Scott wrote about her technique for getting the images. “Obviously, some people seem like they will make better subjects than others; kids are always really excited and have wonderful expressions. I make a good show of looking like I’m just there to photograph the exhibits, so usually people apologize for getting in the way!”
“It’s actually really difficult to anticipate any of these images beyond the most obvious components. They are always a surprise to me and there are far more duds than keepers. I feel this series really does epitomize the magic of the ‘decisive moment’ except in this case, that moment is obscured even to the photographer.”
The images are single exposure, though they bring to mind the series of Tierney Gearon and her work with double-exposure photography. Scott said her early work was grainy with a lot of motion blurs and moody lighting and feels this work is reminiscent of that period. In between, she has spent a lot of time photographing animals (she even has a book about newborn puppies) although she said she has never thought of herself as an animal photographer.
“I find animals fascinating, funny, and probably most importantly sincere,” Scott wrote. “They are what and who they are and that’s that.”
“Natural History” according to Scott is also about “creating allegorical narratives of our troubled co-existence with nature” noting on her website that many of the animals in the dioramas that were collected and displayed in museums were killed in order to entertain the public during a period before motion pictures or widespread travel.
“Whereas I feel awkward and exposed in the company of people, I feel at home in my skin when I’m with animals,” Scott explained. “Unfortunately, our stewardship of the animal kingdom has been, and continues to be, poor at best. Respect is a theme I try to center much of my work on; as an intelligent society, we have to learn to have more respect for non-human life.”
“My love of animals is so woven into the fabric of my life and consciousness that I don’t often realize how much of my work or personal efforts focus on them.”
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