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Offerings

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  • Offerings
    By Emma Powell

  • Photographers, like scientists, record facts about the observable world. From those facts, they make inferences concerning larger questions of existence. But unlike scientists, artists are free to alter those facts to create imagined scenarios and fictional events. In my series Offerings, I use the materials of natural science—birds, butterflies, octopuses, eggs, shells, plants—to suggest a strange, shadowy world where things may not be as they seem. I take as my starting point the tradition of documentation as established in the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries by scientific artists and photographers during the great age of exploration and classification. However, my purpose is not to document but to suggest the mysterious power and purpose within a natural world that often seems more surreal than serene.
    My photos are first made as ambrotypes using the wet plate collodion process on glass. I then scan the plates, and enlarge and print them digitally. By using a nineteenth-century process, I allude to earlier natural philosophers who gathered specimens from far and wide in order to understand their world. By using twenty-first-century digital technology, I enter our own era where visual truth and scientific facts are increasingly fluid, often unverifiable, and frequently surreal.
    While photography is itself a form of specimen collection used to investigate the visual world, it is also a medium for investigating the incomprehensible realms of the imagination. In Offerings
    , my goal is to use photography to straddle two seemingly incompatible kinds of knowledge: fact and fantasy.