For my Glass-scapes series, I employ a complex process to photograph backgrounds of museum dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History. The set-up involves three different cameras, the first two functioning solely as viewing devices. First, I place a large-format (4 x 5 in.) camera on a tripod in front of the diorama. Next, I hold a Hasselblad camera in front of the viewfinder of the first camera, revealing what it “sees.” This immediately makes the scene itself appear more artificially two-dimensional. I then add a third camera that “looks into” the Hasselblad’s viewfinder. The target feature of the viewfinder, the crosshairs, make me feel like a hunter, and that element remains visible in the resulting photograph. This arrangement also creates a dark frame around the view, further distancing us from the original brightly-painted backgrounds of the dioramas while inviting us into what seems like a secret world. The word “magic” often occurs to me when talking about this body of work, which evokes for me the fantastical places of my childhood memories.

A major theme here is the interplay between “rough” nature and multiple degrees of artifice. The painters of the diorama backgrounds have already transformed nature (or documentary photographs of nature) into art; I then select parts of these backgrounds to photograph, creating new images with a very different look and feel. In these photos I try to offer works for sensory delectation as well as prompts to an array of associations. Depending on the viewer, these might include the idea of “raw” reality being constantly mediated through images and the confusions that result—e.g., the degree to which these are “real” views (did the photographer stand before such natural elements?) versus the degree to which they’re re-constructed, and to what ends. Given their origins in the dioramas, they might recall photography’s history as a tool implicated in domination. Thus, while I feel a childlike innocence in viewing the illuminated scene at center, devoid of humans, the surrounding penumbra may evoke somber reflections on the dark sides of humanity’s interactions with other living beings, including human competitors for the land’s riches. The occasional presentation of the Glass-scapes as an old-fashioned slide show might further remind us of this antiquated and highly artificial manner of bringing far-off worlds to the viewer within changing artistic and ideological frameworks.