Taxidermy had not held much interest for Lynn Savarese, until she signed on as a volunteer photographer for New York City's American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Though she was simultaneously working on numerous projects in travel, interior, and portrait photography, and as well as works featuring abstracted flowers in decay, her experience with the AMNH made her enamored of the world of dead animals.
“I grew mesmerized by this art form when photographing bird mounts for the AMNH’s archival digitization project,” Savarese tells The Creators Project. “Overwhelmed by the heartbreaking charm of these figures and their disquieting embodiment of both life and death, I sought to understand the medium better. I hadn’t known, for instance, that John James Audubon’s masterful rendering of birds depended on his proficiency as a taxidermist, or that Charles Darwin’s taxidermy skills were essential to his scientific pursuits.”
During her time as a volunteer, Savarese began to see a narrative among the animals that displayed how life could be carried over into still form. “Through scientific knowledge and acute observation, precise sculptural artistry and theatrical intuition, the taxidermist aims to achieve the illusion of life through the remains of death.” Savarese explains. “Rarely are life and death portrayed simultaneously with such quiet force and wonder.”
“While enthralled by the enigmatic beauty and character of these specimens, I never lose sight of man’s hubris in turning animals into replicas of themselves and the inherent irony in attempting to achieve immortality for them through killing them. Doubly ironic, however, is that I've never felt more deeply the wonder and beauty of our animal kin than in my close-up encounters with these mounted creatures.”
In her first taxidermy series, My Still Life Aviary, Savarese focused on the fate of mounted birds in limbo. “These specimens were too old and tattered to be put on public display, but federal and state law forbids the sale of any that are endangered species to any other party who might have an interest in preserving and protecting them," she tells us. In her second series, The Death and Life Adventures of Rat and Indigo Bunting, she was inspired by E.B. White's masterful portrayal of anthropomorphized animals. Recently, Savarese has started work on a more abstract series called Plumigeri, in which she examines the extraordinarily intricate patterns appearing on the feathered backs of mounted birds.
“In My Still Life Aviary series, my aim was to capture not only the haunting charisma of the mounted birds but also the ethical challenges they present, as well as their power to convey the endangerment and threat of extinction many bird species face today. Paying them tribute through photography became, for me, an almost reverential mission,” says Savarese. “In the future, I would like to experiment with different environments, and draw upon a greater variety of mounted animals.”
“I am excited to be revisiting mounted birds from a new perspective, and enjoying the much more abstract images that emerge when my focus is exclusively on their feathers.”
To learn more about Lynn Savarese's work, click here.