Fashioning Natural History

Via BoingBoing, a fashion spread set in a Natural History museum, with the models looking very much as if they are part of the diorama.


It would be kinda cool and funny if it weren’t for the disturbing history of this kind of thing. Although my guess is that C. Taylor took these pictures fully aware of this history and probably intending some kind of ironic commentary on it.

You can see the entire photo shoot here.

30 thoughts on “Fashioning Natural History

  1. Hi, I am C.Taylor, the creator of the fashion series “Beauty and the Beast” using the Milwaukee Public Museum’s dioramas… with their consent. It was a collaborative effort and they were very accommodating.

    Before commenting I would like to state I am a lover of nature, wilderness, cultures, animals and history. I have a deep and personal respect for living things as well as things that are gone.

    Ota Benga, to my knowledge, is a very separate incident than the Milwaukee Public Museum animal dioramas, though clearly both are a result of an era and a cultural attitude (I am aware of the history with NY’s Ota Benga). Also to my knowledge MPM has never exhibited a real human being inside dioramas.

    In fact, Ota Benga was never shown in a diorama. He was shown living, with living creatures, as an animal. He was eventually removed due to protests. His case is a very unfortunate result of much ignorance, and Western cultures prevailing attitude of superiority. Honestly I do not see a direct connection between the young African man and the animal dioramas at the Milwaukee Public Museum. The Director of the American Museum of Natural History, Hermon Bumpus, has no clear relation to the Milwaukee Public Museum, but I think he did get his start as a manager at the University of Wisconsin, leaving soon to follow his career ambitions. He may, but I have not come across anything to confirm influence was there.

    Here are some interesting links to look into, if you are interested in this topic:

    Though I personally disagree with hunting of any kind, I also recognize that it is too late for black and white opinions. In some cases, such as with deer, hunting is needed due to the unbalance humans encouraged in the animal chain. Many of the great taxidermists were also animal advocates, during a time when protecting an animal of any kind was a terribly unpopular belief. Carl Akeley himself, the greatest of them all, fought for protection of gorillas and is buried underneath one of his dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History. He also created the very first animal diorama – for The Milwaukee Public Museum in 1886. My approach towards the Milwaukee Museum dioramas was that of an artist. You may not like that, but upon my first encounter with the dioramas in Milwaukee I knew they were different than anything I had ever seen before. They were not creepy. They felt otherworldly, oddly so – and beautiful. It felt like going back into time when before moving pictures and photographs ever existed.

    Yes, historically the animals were indeed hunted primarily for the taxidermist to display, but I do try to understand that in the time that most of them were created the people truly felt that it was a service to their community, and many still do believe that. It does not mean it is right, thus it is not done anymore, not to that degree anyways.

    There is not a child who grew up in the Milwaukee area, (just north of Chicago), that did not have their first, and often only, encounter with exotic animals while viewing these dioramas. For many these are all the wildlife they will ever see. People who grew up here have strong memories of them.

    My intent was to not express an opinion about the pieces, rather to add onto the already existing works and create a new reality. People rarely have encounters with true wildlife and what little is left is fading quickly. I find it an irony indeed, that humans would like to control nature to the degree of finding it important to kill, then preserve the dead instead of help what lives to survive. Not unlike the history of Western anthropologists or missionaries studying /converting, while contributing the end of independence in native many cultures.

    Main thing is that animals are no longer killed for these, nor have been for some time (to my knowledge), so I do feel they need to be preserved themselves as they now serve an importance in society as a reminder of what once was.

    Along with zoos, aquariums, and cartoons (yes, cartoons that use animals with human behaviors) – humans do have the dark history of the need to contain, form, and control everything wild around them. We are now not so different from that time.

    The dioramas introduce that wild, and what is unattainable to the human in a safe environment.

    I can go on and on about this topic.

    The Milwaukee Public Museum has some of the absolute best dioramas in the country. Agree with it or not, the old ones – well they are really old (near falling apart), and the newer ones are created only using already natural passed on creatures and animals. The way that the taxidermist has developed their movement, poses, muscles and expressions is unmatched by any others in the nation. The lion diorama is of particular importance. You can see that in the one I recreated here –

    To see the before and after video click here:

    (In the original diorama, the fur has faded to a near white/blondish color, and African Masai hunters are hunting the lion. He has two spears through his torso). I removed all of that to show more unity between the model and the animal… it is more kabuki-like… a dance. She is never afraid in these photos, she is almost an animal herself.

    I am not trying to glamorize killing of animals, but give praise to the animal itself – take notice of the art of the full diorama. It is a dying cultural craft. As when Russia ended its monarchy, there was no room for the aristocracy to exist anymore – so it is with these. We have reach a time when there is no longer room for collecting animals for any purpose. It is a history that will disappear in time.

    On the one hand I did find myself wondering about the animals lives. But on the other hand I find that I wonder much more often about the lives of the animals, which are still here on this planet. >

    Fashion is also about controlling, containing and forming. Like the dioramas it is also about fantasy and creating an image or reality that the viewer is not able to attain. Fashion is all about re-creation, using history to relive, revive and renew. It too is an art form.

    Some attention needs to be paid to the relationship of the woman with the dioramas. She too appears to be taxidermy. She too is collectable; she too is exotic and desired to be controlled…. She too is rare and afraid, yet strong. She encompasses all of that.

    It is a bridge between two worlds, both worlds completely fabricated and fake.

    One can easily write off fashion, but in my work I prefer to recognize its importance culturally. Fashion is one of the most ancient forms of expression.

    The model was photographed in a studio, and I had composed with the amount of space in mind, the action and emotion I wanted, etc. But most important I wanted her to be with the animals, not against them.

    It would be lovely to hear what others have to say about this.


  2. CTaylor:

    First, thanks for taking the time to write!

    Second, although Ota Benga was never in a diorama, one might ask why there are dioramas of Native Americans at some museums of natural history. I’ve never been to the MPM, but the Natural History Museum in NY is like this. There is a clear association between such animal displays and displays of “others” – just as you discuss in terms of the women in your displays.

    Finally, a question: Why did you choose the models you did? It seems to me that they are all chosen to fit into certain conceptions of exoticness as well. In the lion picture, for instance, you show a woman with an Afro lifting her skirt, and the caption discusses “Masai warriors” – it seems to be a strange and disturbing juxtaposition, but your above comments don’t really make it clear to me why you chose to do this.

  3. I like the Walrus one and the Lion one. The sense of arrested motion in the Lion one is cool. I am also a TREMENDOUS fan of sea otters, but I don’t like the sea otter picture because it makes it hard to tell whether the dress has an empire waist or not.

  4. Yes, well – it is the same woman in every photograph. A shoot of this nature is a collaboration with many others. Bjorn Nasset did hair and makeup (which is the same in all pictures). I asked him to conceptualize hair designs taht are inspired by Native designs – sturdy and wearable but sculptural, much like many traditional native styles. He did a wonderful job.

    The afro hair in the lion photograph is to mimic he man of the lion – thus she becomes the lion herself. Each picurer has its own thing and i wish i could say that every single hair style had a purpose – but it is fashion not art – and they do not. I give the final work on hair, but I am most concerned with composition with negative and postive space, color, and light.

    She is exotic – but if one want to question the use of an exotic model i must admit that i feel it is opening a can of worms. She is not portrayed as Josephine Baker. she is to take on a personality that suits the scene, just as any model in any fashion shoot. I prefer to work with exotic, or more properly termed, unique looking women and men in fashion because i feel it is important to show faces that represent the canvas of our country. i do not feel that American fashion show nearly enough of different looking beauties. but these are personal decisions as a photographer – if and when i am fortunate enough to choose the models myself.

    oh – yes – dioramas with native in them. well yes Milwaukee Public Museum does have dioramas with native in them. i cannot speak for them, but at least at MPM there is one floor for animal dioramas, one floor for native dioramas which also includes modern day people of mixed ethnicities, etc. then there is another floor for cultural dioramas which depict say a traditional German home, Polish home, Mexican home, etc etc.

    Its my interpretation that they mean to help to teach people about dying, or dead, traditions.

    I personally have much exposure to cultures, but still really appreciate their efforts.

    i mean, we can be displeased with them for doing it, or we can be even more displeased for them not doing it at all and there being no way at all for chidren to learn about these things.

    again – i do not like the history of Western cultures with this stuff – but it is what it is. we can only work with what we have now.

    REX: regarding the otters. i so agree with you! yah – that dress was not my favorite either. i have two stylists and they choose from clothing provided to us by local boutiques. I try to just let them work with what they can get;)

    In addition, the otter taxiderm was so incredibly old and faded out that i had to do my best to bring them to life again – i did the best i could. being from Seattle, i’ve long adored the otter.

    thanks for taking interest.

  5. If I am not mistaken, it is the same model in all the pictures, Kerim. She might have been chosen each time to “fit into a certain conception of exoticness”…
    If you mean the costuming, well…..

  6. CTaylor,

    Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

    Regarding the dioramas of Native Americans, there is no doubt that the people who made them had the best of intentions, as did those who documented what they thought was a “vanishing race.” And yet, today’s descendants of those peoples are still alive, and many of them feel that being labeled a “vanishing race” and part of the country’s “natural history” made it easier for their land to be taken away from them. They also worry that it affects how people think (or don’t) about contemporary Native American society.

    RE: Women as the exotic other: I highly recommend this essay:

    Judith Williamson, “Woman Is an Island Femininity and Colonization” in Tania Modleski, ed., Studies in Entertainment (Bloomington Indiana UP, 1986) 99-118

  7. I am a bit of a reactionary when it comes to this sort of thing because of the particularities of my experience working in Papua New Guinea, but I have to ask: Is this sort of critique of representation of ‘dusky’ people ever avoidable? That is to say, is anyone EVER allowed to portray people in anything even remotely like these situations unless they are anthropologists? I guess I am unhappy with the epistemological authority we anthropologists take upon oursleves when we make pronouncements about what a particular picture ‘means.’

  8. Nobody is denying anyone the right to exoticize.

    But what bothers me, as a student of visual anthropology, is the way in which some people treat images as \”natural\” without being aware of the tremendous power we have to control images. CTaylor\’s comments here show a tremendously reflective process which (through her skill and hard work) is reflected in her pictures. However, it is equally clear that she was much more reflective about certain issues than others.

    For this reason it is possible to both enjoy her pictures (which I did) and also to reflect on some of those aspects which I find troubling. I worry about self-congratulatory reactionarism which is really an attempt to silence such reflection.

  9. I’m not suggesting that anthropologists denying people the right to exoticize. I am questioning anthropologists’ right to act as arbiters in deciding which pictures are exotic and which are not. But I will not continue further since I would hate to think I was ‘silencing’ you.

  10. well i do not feel the model is exoticized. it is fashion and the goal of every fashion spread is to refelct beauty, extreme beauty.

    the term exotic, and its definition can be put to question as well… and i feel it should be put to question.

    i have to work visually with people of all cultures every day, much like an anthropologist, only i work to show them in positive ways. i’ve spent my lifetime styudying image and images – much like an anthropoligist – and in fact i was obsessed with native history from an an abnormally early age and had planned to become a cultural anthropoligst, until i grew into an adult, began my studies in that area, and i felt too much ethical conflict in it.

    so though i did not choose there to be a meaning for each hairstyle, i feel keeping the project in perpsective is important. it is a fashion spread, it is not a conceptual art project. i am not trying to say or tell anyone how to think or what to think. you know?

    it is an editorial spread. it is entertainment first. that i am able to intorduce some intellect to it is not easy to do in the business although it is my goal to be able to make that work always someday… it is a luxury that most publications avoid.

    this is what one Harvard museum studies grad student just wrote me this morning – so we can also take into account that way of looking at it.

    “The Art of The Dioramas is important marketing to YoCo’s, creating a
    museum identity, brand that is relevant in popular culture and
    contemporary society. The photo shoot greatly aids the museum in
    gaining attention to the dioramas, the museum, and the rest of the
    collection; while and equally important helps the great Milwaukee
    community, Milwaukee’s fashion industry, etc. This form of
    advertising and marketing raises awareness far better and more
    effectively than traditional ads or other such efforts.”

    her compares these with a project done by Hiroshi Sugimoto which is a conceptual art project.

    also – lets talk about one of the most important issues regarding this type of project and photography – that resources are not out there for projects that involve animals unless there is a large stash of cash to back it up… which i do not have. Unlike Hiroshi Sugimoto i am not famous, nor do i have funds to use actual locations and actual animals.

    i do create conceptual art for gallery exhibition , and those are as thought out as can be. for editorial i am given the space to make some decisions purely for aesthetic reasons. when i use the term exotic – i do not mean non-white – i mean models with something about them i personally find 100 percent their own. how my use of models that fit into that description is questioned in a negative way truly baffles me as i am one of the few out there who makes this a point.

    ialso i do not just study my models or use them, i collaborate with them to bring out their inner beauty. they are 100% aware, and involved in the process from their standpoint as a model. feel that each model, whom i end up with an actual relationship, does not feel disprescted nor wrongfully shown. in addition to that in this area, creative photography for editorial is rare. its even more rare to use non-white models.

    i feel it is important to use diversity in images to give tribute to that. so with that said i work with any race, and any culture of a model – but i am looking for a particular element of individuality and uniqueness when i am given creative control.

    please write more.


  11. One thing that we haven’t talked about which I think is also quite interesting is the “wall text” — the copy that appears under each picture. If you really want a juxtaposition of elements, then this is the place to go, since it combines the ‘discovery channel’ natural history genre and fashion writing. Thus we get:

    The moose is the largest of the deer family, with bulls occasionally weighing more than 1,800 pounds.

    Monique Lhuillier peacock blue gown, $3,300. Available at Gigi of Mequon.

    BCBG platform lace up wedges, $79. Available at Macy’s.

    Indeed black shell necklace, $19.99 each. Available at Macy’s. L. Edgar Duff sterling silver and rubber cross earrings, $140. Available at Lela.

    If I were curating this exhibition I’d produce a lot more text that produced a deligthful sort of absurdist tingle from the juxtaposition of these two very separate, and yet related, registers.

    But of course I’d clear it with Kerim first ;P

  12. Yah I agree with Rex, again. Oddly enough those little phrases are directly from the MPM’s diorama panels. They actually kind of fit perfectly with popular culture and fashion because they are really deadpan and simple… simple is the key to popular culture. Bright colors and graphic shapes. Literally.

    The newspaper industry is having a very hard time. Fact is younger people just do not read like they used to. They want fast, short, sweet, and nothing too complex. Eighth grade reading level. This is true.

    Oh – but then the fashion prices and information itself. bizarre for sure! I have nothing to do with the text. I have editors and real writers for that. it is very odd to think that the clothing is for sale and the animals are on display – permanantly.

    Thanks Rex for pointing that out.

  13. oh also – the model is not costumed. the clothing is real, it is for evening wear, and they are actually pretty middle of the road when it comes to evening gown and cocktail dress wear.

    i dont think “O” meant anything by suggesting she is cosutmed, but costumes are more for the stage. though fashion photography is a form of entertainment, she is indeed wearing real and wearble clothing sold in hundreds of stores nation wide.

    of course i’m aware of studies that compare high fashion with tribal clothing and it does have meaning in the big picture. on a smaller scale, such as one shoot, it is very accessible and people to dress like that. it is not liks if i had used high couture clothing that is not ready to wear, and near impossible to wear except for in elitest niche societies. that would be very tribal in a way!

    i would have used that kind of clothing if it were available to me. it suits the project more.

    written by a museum studies student at Boston Harvard:
    “I completely believe in the work you did that I saw…. I
    want to see more of that type of work, I think museums have the
    ability if not responsibility to be more for more people than they
    currently are. Cultural institutions not just museums are in many
    ways the town square, they unlike any other organization have the
    ability to continue aiding the community and fostering, knowledge,
    learning, arts, culture…etc… Museums could be a place wear
    fashion meets music, intellectuals meet boehemians….artists meet
    investment bankers….and equally important artists meet artists…
    This does not happen, used to, but not now.”

  14. It is my professional opinion as a scholar of ancient Semitic languages that “Stalking formalwear in its natural habitat” is a completely hilarious title, that if you want a mode of human endeavor with a disturbing history, try anthropology, and then try philology, and then theology, and then almost anything else worth trying, and finally that the sea otter who is reclining on his or her back looks fabulous.

  15. thank SLS. Semitic languages – how facinating! and how does language fit in with fashion? that would be a wonderful shoot if we can talk more about that? my email is on the weblink there.

  16. SLS: Yes, the “disturbing history” I meant was not that of fashion but that of anthropology. The early museum dioramas I spoke of were created by anthropologists. I had initially assumed that CTaylor was commenting on this (which is why I find Rex’s comments so strange), but it became clear afterwards that she had very different intentions than what I had originally understood.

  17. mmm, i thought you were commenting on the project as well. – the actual dioramas, well they are disturbing for sure. i would love to hear how anthropology has changed.

    i think zoologists made the dioramas too. they were really bizarre people back then.

    but has their work, as disturbing as is was, done any good?


  18. Well that\’s what\’s so striking (and disturbing) about your pictures – you\’ve combined the animal and human dioramas. Even though the model is \”live\” she looks like a diorama herself – much like the native people put in the same museums as the animals. This confusion between (between human and animal, nature and culture, and the living and the preserved artifact) was always a part of these museums. Your pictures capture and replicate these confusions very well, which is why I think they\’ve attracted so much attention.

    As to whether early anthropology did any good …. On the one hand the anthropologists were eager to show that these people had culture and weren\’t just \”savages\” as many then thought. On the other hand, they seemed to place them just one step up the evolutionary ladder from the animals downstairs, and portrayed them as a vanishing race, thus making it easier to forget those who were still alive. And of course, there were fights among the anthropologists over how these displays should be presented. Oneman\’s earlier post on Boas talks about some of this.

  19. OK, I’ve been meaning to comment on this all week, but life’s been keeping me busy. Anyway, I have a couple of not necessarily or wholly related points about these works. Like Kerim and Rex, I think that, as images, they’re pretty neat, and I certainly appreciate the photographer’s intentions of bringing the museum to the public in an attempt to bring the public to the museum, of making the museum seem a little bit more relevant to modern life. After all, there is something a little old-fashioned about animal dioramas (not to mention people dioramas) in the modern age. In fact, the whole natural history museum as an institution carries more than a whiff of the Victorian hunter and safarist, of men in suits and bowlers negotiating for pelts and tusks with the natives, of pith-helmeted anthropologists hunkered down in South Pacific jungles, and of course of Indiana Jones on the deck of a steamer yelling “It belongs in a MUSEUM!” Natural history museums have especially fallen prey to the idea that they are there for the education of children, that there are few rewards for the adult viewer, and I certainly appreciate Taylor’s motivation to do something about that.

    Yet the photos make me feel uncomfortable, for a couple of reasons. I should note, that’s not necessarily a Bad Thing, to be made to feel uncomfortable, but neither is it necessarily a Good Thing. The first is the issue I have raised here before, the “waxworkification” effect that happens when living people are exhibited in the museum. In most of these images, the model herself looks as dead and inert as the taxiderms she is posed among — the first image I saw from the series (at BoingBoing I think) was the woman among the bamboo, called “Bongo in the bamboo forest” on MKEonline (Bongo?!), and I was convinced it was a mannequin! Part of this is the photoshoppery — glamour photoshopping already tends to erase the signs of life from models’ bodies, and in these photos the compositing of the models into photos of the diorama means that differences in lighting also necessarily make the model seem detached from her surroundings (which, of course, she is). But part of it is the museum context itself, the placing on display of the human form and the implicit connection that creates to both a) dead things, and b) animals.

    The association with animals leads me to the second source of my discomfort, which is related to the discomfort Kerim originally expressed in relation to the display of natives in natural history museums. If displaying Ota Benga in the zoo or displaying dioramas of Maasai warriors demonstrate the low regard that native peoples have been held in by their Western conquerors (equating them with both animals and tokens of conquest), then what does displaying women in the same context say about the status of women? Especially in a field like fashion photography, which is already overdetermined by the commodification of images of women as objects of consumption? It’s no great secret, I think, that the equation of women with animals relates to their role as sex objects (Playboy Bunnies come immediately to mind), and I can’t help but see the placement of models in animal dioramas along these lines. Consider, for example, the young woman photoshopped into the place formerly occupied by the happy otter, whose pose even mimics that of the otter she replaces.

    The association with conquest is a corollary to this concern. As Taylor herself (himself? I’m assuming the photographer is female, only because Kerim has used “her” a couple of times and there’s been no protest from the photographer) noted, natural history museums in the West were founded as repositories for the symbols of conquest — the Victorian hinter, again, bringing back the trophies of his trek to the heart of darkest Africa, or young anthropologist FH Cushing sending Zuni pots, fetishes, and other objects back to the Smithsonian. The big museums read as records of colonization, and in fact were self-consciously constructed to do so. And so, again, I wonder at the meanings encoded by images of women alongside the other trophies of colonization.

    It is in this connection, I think, that the “exoticness” of the model comes into play. I don’t doubt that Taylor seeks out models that, for whatever reason, strike her as particularly attention-worthy, and on the face of it it’s hard to find fault with that. Yet I also wonder about the unexamined assumptions coded into that decision-making process, and can’t help but think that in a society where “white” is coded as the standard, “exoticness” is necessarily “non-white” — and that the markers of difference that make one “exotic” are equally necessarily markers of the colonial conquest referenced by the existence of these dioramas and therefore by these images.

    I’ll admit, I’m conflicted, with the same kind of ambivalence that I felt about the display of “Dangers of the Mail”. I don’t see how you can reference the natural history museum without referencing this past, nor do I think you should — I think that this past is a necessary part of the museum itself,just as the past of anti-Indian prejudice is a necessary part of America’s history. But I don’t think we should be comfortable with that past, either — which is what I think Kerim was originally saying about these images, though I get the impression that the “ironic commentary” Kerim sought in them was not the intention of the photographer.

  20. i love what oneman says here.

    i did not earase any signs of being real from this model.

    main thing you all do need to know is that the model is barely touched up – no one would see a difference. that means i took out literally one or two TINY bumps. i didnt even need to do that as it would never have shown in print because they were too small. her skin is indeed near poreless and from the distance i am shooting her – she seems poreless.

    she may look like a mannequin to you – but she has perfect skin. she is of that extreme beauty that high fashion celebrates. she stands for the unattainable.

    i do not think she feels she looks like a mannequin.

    i do touch up some models, but this one – she is really like this. it amazed me.

    she is also not underweight and in fact is a very, very normal weight for a young woman. she has more weight than a mannequin portrays.

    love your insight on the colonization oneman… SO TRUE. they are records of their spreading the white ideals.

    terms such as exoticized and trophy are purely male terms, or terms that suggest she is a victim, which she is not. you are only a trophy is you are on a mans arm… which she is not.

    she is not shown in compromising positions, as with Playboy.

    also a Bongo, is a real animal, not a term. it is a real name of an animal that is still living on this planet. i may desscrbe it as exotic. is that accurate?

    back to exotic. i personally feel that definition cannot be associated with non-white anymore, and that is an outdated way to read into the word. – perhaps the linguist here may have some insight to that… but its meaning will change person to person, culture to culture, profession to profession, and male to female.

    exotic has in my entire lifetime been a good thing… while when used to talk about saaaaaay The history of the African American in cinema – it does indeed change.

    if you look at the how exotic was used in the 1920’s description of native peoples by anthropologists – sure – it was a bad thing, but this is not the 1920’s anymore, nor is this anthropology.

    the model is represented well.

    fashion and modeling is not a female thing. it is a male and female thing. is there sexism in the industry – yes. is there racism in the insdustry – perhaps. it is not balck and white. for the most part in contemporary cultures of YoCo (Young Cosmopolitans) we choose to not be victimized by such things, nor try to take responsibilty for the few out there whom are.

    showing women and men as sexual, or as in my case as sexy – is not sexism. we should not deny sexuality. women are sexual. men are sexual. it is how you the viewer chooses to read into sexy, that sexism gets involved. of course i am not addressing pornography – which i am not qualified to talk about on a professional level.

    pornography, i will say, is not what it used to be in the YoCo. MANY women are pornogrpahers. so like it or not – the female image and the feminist is different now.

    beauty is special. good or bad it is fruitless to contest, it is desirable by most everyone in some form. a beautiful mind perhaps, if not body. it is stunning when you see a women such as that model in real life. they are different.

    if a fashion spread provokes actual conversation, it is a success. to make any image that inspires people to think, or in this case rethink certain cultural issues, it is a wonderful thing.

    i must say my office is quite pleased that some people who (i am assuming) do not normally pay too much attention to fashion spreads – are in fact doing just that. it is even more ideal to me, that those people are intellectuals such as yourselves. note the comment by REX about the ampire waist on the dress.

  21. See, you learn something new every day — Bongo’s a type of antelope! I was thinking “waterbuck”, but then, I know very little about African fauna.

    Do understand, I’m not trying to be critical, though clearly critique-al. Images (and any artwork) have a life independent of their authors’ intentions, so I don’t want to come off as accusing Taylor of anything.

    I do have a bone to pick with something she says above, though: “for the most part in contemporary cultures of YoCo (Young Cosmopolitans) we choose to not be victimized by such things, nor try to take responsibilty for the few out there whom are.” YoCo! Who knew? I guess that makes me “OlCo”… Anyway, while the whole “I refuse to be victimized” thing is pretty much in keeping with Western ideals of the self as individual, particularly for Americans, I have to say, there’s not always much of a choice. The native peoples represented in natural history museums didn’t “choose” to be victimized either — which doesn’t return, say, the sacred bundles of the Meskwaki Indians to them. (Held by European museums, they aren’t covered by NAGPRA; for that matter, even a lot of US museums aren’t covered by NAGPRA.) And choosing not to be responsible for those who are victimized also doesn’t necessarily mean one *isn’t* responsible — that, too, is not usually a choice we can make.

    Again, by saying this, I’m not trying to imply that Taylor’s images necessarily victimize anyone, and I’m certainly not drawing on the types of arguments anti-porn activists use to impose their own kind of controls on sexuality. My only goal here is to a) analyze my own discomfort with these images, and b) say something meaningful about the culture in which Taylor, her models, the museum, and us the viewers are embedded. Certainly we can interrogate the notions of “beauty” at work in images like this without a) accepting the idea of the artist as detached and independent from cultural reality or b) accepting as the only alternative the condemnation of such works and their creators?

  22. yah – YoCo is a term i recently heard from the Harvard grad who is going to use that fashion series in his thesis… sorry i am actually nearly out of being a YoCo myselt – but is a term now apparently realized at least enough to be in a museum studies lecture and presentation at Harvard.

    also oneman – i am not detached, i do not feel that the photos are above a greater definition, but i am only one person who can create only so much and if i had the means to make something that pleased the entire world – well honestly i probably would resist that because that would make it really watered down. i cannot be responsible for how every person, from any walk of life, interprets my work… that would make it impossible to make anything. it would eat me up and i would never make anything at all. let along anything of value that inspired people to think.

    if all pictures are made to address nothing, that is a great diservice. dumbed down is a great diservice.

    dont you think?

    if every photograph is made to please the entire community then it is looked at and forgotten. you can see that type of picture out there by the millions in this culture daily. they hold no significant meaning – other than perhaps on the whole as a part of an era in imagery that is intentionally empty, so that is does not provoke thought. people who talk to one another about ideas are dangerous. scientists and artists are not unlike at all. to suggest that an artist is any more detached than others in different fields, as though some sientists or some anthropologists are not – wow that just blows me away.

    its a stereotype that is incredibly outdated.

    also is not the exotic and the native only exotic and a native to people such as yourself? people who study them?

    are they exotic or native within their own cultures? are we not exotic and native to them? – or were we?

    it seems to me that those again are terms used by white men who are looking in from the outside, not from the actual people you refer to as exotic or native.

    the model is American, her parents are born here, her grandparents are born here, and her great-grandparents became citizen here… before my own ancestors i might add (and visually i seem white).

    in this day and age is it not futile to try and label non-white people as native or white or anything of that kind? we live in the great melting pot.

    the native of the past were indeed treated poorly, and still are. i do not think these photos suggest either or. that would make it a different project – made for the gallery, not the pages of a lifestyle publication.

    we can make up all kinds of things – and argue – but the reality is this project is for a lifestyle publication, it is not for an anthropologist monthly. that does not make me detached… that makes my life slightly more manageable:)

    critique is important.

    if the model were blonde and with blue eyes would you respond the same way? do Asian people feel it is negative? how about other cultures? so much of this does sound like upper class educated white men. (which is great – and perhaps that is totally wrong)

    btw – regarding American point of view… perhaps but my friend, a nature/wildlife photographer famed for theorizing builidng natural bridges between parks so that animals can migrate in the U.S. – he is from Germany. he loves it. he fights for animal rights and he is so happy to see something in popular culture showing animals. he feels it is positive to see a model with the animals. he views them as though they are all alive.

    just another side to it all.

    so – what if that blonde haired blue eyed model is from the Middle East or some other unsuspecting area for blondes – where they do exist and also where historically the people have been labeled negatively as exotic.

    your thoughts?

    also they way you write is as though the model is being degraded by being considered an animal. that is if you truly believe that animals are inferior to humans – which i do not. i feel they are often superior and always equal. in the photos she is equal to them, she does not fight them, control them nor fear them. this is important to looking at humans relationship with other living creatures.

    sorry – the way you wrote about the Bongo was like you did not know it was the animal (i had forgotten the possibility of your area of expertise).

    oh – her poses are actually done to show the dress, and also combine contemporary performance and dance.

    still – definitions and meanings of words do change over time.

    check out this artist – really amazing – Anthony Goicolea

  23. I don’t have time to address everything here — except to say that I don’t think we are necessarily in disagreement, just using the work for different things, which is, after all, what artistic creation is there for. But I did want to address the Bongo thing — I was being sincere, I honestly didn’t know it was called a Bongo — I thought that Bongo referred to the model, which, you must admit, is a pretty “exotic” name for a lady!

    But now I gotta go!

  24. What an awesome discussion. Thanks to all involved. I think these images are gorgeous. I want to endorse, in particular, CTaylor’s notion that fashion is a search for ‘extreme beauty.’ That’s a lovely and telling phrase.

    I personally adore diorama — who hasn’t worshipped in that temple of the enlightenment, the American Museum of Natural History? Critique all you want, but these places usually fill me with a sense of wonder.

    Thanks again for your work, CTaylor. Please keep us posted.

  25. Yes dioramas are mesmerizing Dr. Strong! Thank you for joining in. And you may be interested in hearing that this weekend i have found some dioramas of famous war battles!

    MY NEXT PROJECT! no fashion though. these ones are for art making.

    If you or anyoneis interested in keeping up with more of my work I do have an exhibition coming up with a wonderful artist named Wafaa Bilal. Bilal is an Iraqi born artist who was airlifted from a refgee camp in Iraq soon after the Gulf War. He has much insight to the human condition – the title of his recent book of conceptual photography.

    He is my mentor and a past instructor of mine from college.

    We show in Dallas this December at a gallery called Pawn. His work certainly is culturally important and worth the attention of anthropologists!

  26. did anyone hear about the bones found that identify an extict, second dwarf species of buffalo, called Bubalus cebuenis, from the Philippines?

    In the Metro section of the Chicago Tribune there is an article that shows the Field Museum’s curator of mammals, Larry Heaney, standing next to a model?? or an actual taxidermy of a Tamaraw – a near identicle species from the same area that is endangered.,1,4804550.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

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