i heart photograph: i'm wondering if you could talk about the process and ideas behind photographing something that was once alive but now has been reconfigured specifically for display. in a more general sense, what does it mean for you to photograph something whose purpose is to be looked at?
daniëlle van ark: well it is funny because these animals specifically are not intended to be looked at. they are but they aren't...they are in storage rooms of natural history museums (this one is taken at the natural history museum in new york). they most likely will never be on display because they are old, damaged or just too much, some of them have been standing in the same way for years and years. i don't see these animals as being once alive but i do talk to them when i am in these places. maybe because i approach them as being still alive.
i.h.p.: in this particular image the animal is turned away from the camera and almost functions as a surrogate viewer. it's disturbing and fascinating that the deer seems to be contemplating the process of how it got to where it is.
d.v.a.: to me it is interesting that everybody has a different story with this picture. and that is why this picture or other pictures from this series are interesting. everybody sees something else in it, we tend to reflect our emotions on these dead pieces of skin that look like real animals. with this picture you can only think, what he is doing there? not showing his face makes it more poetic and more open for interpretation, it makes him able to do or be anything in this setting.
i.h.p.: i'm wondering if you could talk about the idea of "nature" or "the natural" in this image and your work in general, given the tension between the subject matter and the way the images look like portraits.
d.v.a.: the tension between the subject matter and why they look like portraits is because in nature you would never be able to observe an animal for so long and from so up close. we as humans get confused here and take these mounted animals for real because we see expression in their glass eyes. in my work i look in an observing way for specific behavior and the way things or humans are proportioned in their environment. with this picture i approach it as 'real', which it is but also isn't. for me stepping into these places, it is real, i see it for the first time and try to find interesting 'moments' just like i would do at an opening in an art gallery. i see the storage rooms as their new nature or habitat and feel like they make the best of being there.
[photo: untitled (deer and skins 01) by daniëlle van ark. 2007. from the series 'the mounted life.' see more of danielle's work here.]
interview is a weekly column by nicholas grider that appears each tuesday on i heart photograph.