“Science is an evolving discipline and observation is the scientist’s most important skill,” writes Cincinnati Art Museum curator Brian Sholis in the introductory text to “Field Guide: Photographs by Jochen Lempert,” an exhibition on view at the museum through March 6, 2016. Lempert, a German photographer, was educated as a biologist, and his scientific background informs his black-and-white photographs of subjects he found in nature, in natural history museums, in science books and elsewhere.
Lempert’s first major U.S. museum exhibition includes more than 100 hand-printed photographs organized in an improvisational installation. The photographer arranges his prints in groupings and sequences to encourage close examination, and to reference themes such as scientific classification and the relationship “between human and non-human life,” Sholis writes. Lempert utilizes different photographic processes to create his work, taking a 35mm camera into the field or bringing objects and bioluminescent species into the studio to create photograms.
Several of the works in the exhibition were made specifically for the show in and around Cincinnati, at the Zoo and Botanical Garden, and the Museum of Natural History & Science. At a time when the public is observing the natural world with heightened attention (and many are alarmed by what they see), Lempert’s exhibition encourages us to wonder, as Sholis writes, “How does our conception of the natural environment shape our understanding of it?” Visitors to Lempert’s show will likely carry a different understanding with them as they step from the museum back into the outdoors. —Conor Risch
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