Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lena Herzog's Lost Souls



I came across this by chance: another photographer, photographing Frederik Ruysch's amazing birth defect displays from the Kunstkammern of Peter the Great, as well as Vienna's Federal Museum of Pathology at the Narrenturm.  I have always admired Rosamond Purcell's photographs, but now there is Lena Herzog.

On Science and the Arts, she does a good job of talking about the true nature of the collectors of the old days, the ideals of morality and aesthetic considerations, the way that art and science were not so separate as they are now.  Check out her narrated slideshow here.

In the meantime, I recommend her book, Lost Souls, which sounds like an amazing meditation on the the abstract beauty of these items of study:

"The arrangements of the fetuses, the specimens, the anatomical skeletons, was highly artistic.  Ruysch was a true artist.  The images I have created, I took special care not to take advantage, not to speculate, on the macabre -- on the horrifying.  I wasn't interested in shocking anyone.  They are shocking by definition because it's such complicated territory.  They're dead, they're children, they were meant to live, they never lived -- so I truly wanted to follow in the footsteps of Frederick Ruysch, who took special care.  For example, he would hide the especially frightening parts with lace, revealing it only to his students of anatomy and to himself to study, in order to help humankind.  The morality of the cabinet makers was never in question.  They were highly conscious of the moral and human implications."

 The preserved fetuses are glimpses into the perils of health and science back when medicine was in its infancy, but she manages to capture some of their ephemeral beauty, and some of the qualities which Ruysch so carefully preserved: that of error and loss, of humanity and the need to understand.



Links:

More on Ms. Herzog and the book in the Paris Review,
and
A rather technique-heavy conversation with Ms. Herzog at the American Society of Cinematographers.

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