Terra Incognita

Terra Incognita

From the beginning of history Mankind has always had an interest in exploring the unknown and sharing their finds with the rest of the world, in the name of science or for the rabble entertainment.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century Western Europe was fascinated by the natural world. Scientists, museums, private collectors, entrepreneurs like Verreaux and unscrupulous adventurers scoured the globe in search of priceless specimens. It was big business.

Later the specimens were filling the shelves of institutions devoted to science or were used for pseudo-scientific street entertainment... those were the days... but we have learned a lot about ourselves by the sacrifice of millions of animals.

Even today at the dawn of the twenty-first century an enormous amount of collections are displayed in museums around the world, some in poor storage conditions or others in newly opened museums such as the new Natural History Museum of Venice.

I started to photograph in the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo taking portraits of dead stuffed animals positioned in front of painted backdrops. Real animals, where the pose, the arranged environment and painted background made the scene unreal, a misleading vision like a trompe l’oeil.

Strangely enough, the animals in these dioramas recovered some life and dignity in the photographs, but still there are something mysterious about them. Like the mythical creatures from terra incognita.

Salvador Calaf

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