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About

Ambrotype photographs of specimens from nature.
Published:
Offerings
By Emma Powell

Photographers, like scientists, record facts about theobservable world. From those facts, theymake inferences concerning larger questions of existence. But unlikescientists, artists are free to alter those facts to create imagined scenariosand fictional events. In my series Offerings, I use the materials of natural science—birds,butterflies, octopuses, eggs, shells, plants—to suggest a strange, shadowyworld where things may not be as they seem. I take as my starting point thetradition of documentation as established in the eighteenth andnineteenth-centuries by scientific artists and photographers during the greatage of exploration and classification. However, my purpose is not to document but to suggest the mysteriouspower and purpose within a natural world that often seems more surreal thanserene.
My photosare first made as ambrotypes using the wet plate collodion process onglass. I then scan the plates, andenlarge and print them digitally. By using a nineteenth-century process, Iallude to earlier natural philosophers who gathered specimens from far and widein order to understand their world. Byusing twenty-first-century digital technology, I enter our own era where visualtruth and scientific facts are increasingly fluid, often unverifiable, andfrequently surreal.
Whilephotography is itself a form of specimen collection used to investigate thevisual world, it is also a medium for investigating the incomprehensible realmsof the imagination. In Offerings
, my goal is to use photography to straddle two seeminglyincompatible kinds of knowledge: fact and fantasy.