Traer Scott is an award winning fine art and commercial photographer and author of six books including Nocturne: Creatures of the Night (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014) and her newest release Finding Home; Shelter Dogs and Their Stories (Princeton Architectural Press, Fall 2015). Her work is exhibited around the world and has been featured in National Geographic, Life, Vogue, People, O, on the NY Times Lens Blog, Behold and dozens of other national and international print and online publications. Her first solo museum show Natural History is at the University of Maine Museum of Art through 2015. Traer was the recipient of the 2010 Rhode Island State Council for the Arts Photography Fellowship Grant and the 2008 Helen Woodward Humane Award for animal welfare activism. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband, daughter and adopted dogs: a pit bull and a baby basset hound.
Natural History is a series of completely candid, in-camera, single exposure images which merge the living and the dead, creating allegorical narratives of our troubled co-existence with nature. Ghost-like reflections of modern visitors viewing wildlife dioramas are juxtaposed against the taxidermied subjects themselves, housed behind the thick glass with their faces molded into permanent expressions of fear, aggression or fleeting passivity.
During the summer of my ninth and tenth years, my mother, in lieu of hiring a babysitter, kept me captive in our hometown Natural History Museum all day, everyday. She functioned as a vibrant and quirky volunteer curator while I spent very long, solitary weeks communing with the museum’s animals, both living and dead, as well as operating the ancient manual elevator for employees and rummaging through the museum’s disheveled collection of mite riddled, century old periodicals and books housed in a private storage. I have since harbored an immense affection for all things old and musty and mysterious, particularly preserved animals whose half dead/half alive presence is at once fascinating and unnerving.
In 2008, during a long anticipated visit to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, I accidentally created an intriguing image while “snapshotting” their dioramas. A reflection of my husband, inadvertently rendered in the glass and framed behind a large ostrich, gave me pause. A few months later, I began to frequent diorama exhibits around the country furtively aiming at capturing these narratives. It is both exhilarating and humbling to be the catalyst for these truly alchemical images which are set against a century old stage and born of random timing and fractured light. — Traer Scott
Natural History Series of Completely Candid Single Exposure Photography by Traer Scott:
From a photography point of view, Scott sees the series as one of anticipation but also happenstance.
“Essentially, I hang out in front of dioramas that I really want to feature and wait for people to approach,” Scott wrote about her technique for getting the images. “Obviously, some people seem like they will make better subjects than others; kids are always really excited and have wonderful expressions. I make a good show of looking like I’m just there to photograph the exhibits, so usually people apologize for getting in the way!”
“It’s actually really difficult to anticipate any of these images beyond the most obvious components. They are always a surprise to me and there are far more duds than keepers. I feel this series really does epitomize the magic of the ‘decisive moment’ except in this case, that moment is obscured even to the photographer.”
The images are single exposure, though they bring to mind the series of Tierney Gearon and her work with double-exposure photography. Scott said her early work was grainy with a lot of motion blurs and moody lighting and feels this work is reminiscent of that period. In between, she has spent a lot of time photographing animals (she even has a book about newborn puppies) although she said she has never thought of herself as an animal photographer.
“I find animals fascinating, funny, and probably most importantly sincere,” Scott wrote. “They are what and who they are and that’s that.”
“Natural History” according to Scott is also about “creating allegorical narratives of our troubled co-existence with nature” noting on her website that many of the animals in the dioramas that were collected and displayed in museums were killed in order to entertain the public during a period before motion pictures or widespread travel.
“Whereas I feel awkward and exposed in the company of people, I feel at home in my skin when I’m with animals,” Scott explained. “Unfortunately, our stewardship of the animal kingdom has been, and continues to be, poor at best. Respect is a theme I try to center much of my work on; as an intelligent society, we have to learn to have more respect for non-human life.”
“My love of animals is so woven into the fabric of my life and consciousness that I don’t often realize how much of my work or personal efforts focus on them.”