Natural History

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Now a somewhat anachronistic term in the field of science, “natural history” encompasses the study of living organisms. The discipline enjoys a long relationship with art, from 16th-century cabinets of curiosities (wunderkammer)—precursors to the modern museum—to the beautifully illustrated, artful taxonomies produced by natural historians in the 19th century. Indeed, prominent naturalists of their time, such as Leonardo Da Vinci and photography pioneer Anna Atkins, used images to transmit scientific knowledge. Today, Mark Dion appropriates such traditions to critically address the hubris of imposing scientific order on the world. John James Audubon’s beautifully illustrated 19th-century taxonomy Birds of America forms the foundation of Brandon Ballengée’s 2005 series about extinction, while Taryn Simon assumes the role of the amateur ornithologist in her photographic project Birds of the West Indies (2013–14).

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