When Leah Sobsey was awarded a residency at the Grand Canyon, in 2008, “I knew I didn’t have anything to add to landscape photography at the National Park, so I set out to work in the museum collection,” she writes in the introduction to Collections, published recently by Daylight Books. It was not her first trip into dusty institutional back rooms—at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, she had been granted permission to photograph their collection of some 10,000 bird skins. But at the Grand Canyon, where she found bird nests, animal skulls and plant fragments, (which she recorded in toned cyanotypes), Sobsey decided to expand her investigation to include the odd and little-seen collections at other national parks. Since then, she has photographed delicate alligator and turtle bones from Everglades National Park in Florida, and human artifacts—leather shoes, silver spoons—from the Carroll family homestead at Acadia National Park in Maine. “My current focus on national parks is a way of preserving these fragile specimens that represent American history,” writes Sobsey.
Writes Xandra Eden in the book, “Normally stowed away—forgotten and out of the sight in storage units— these collected specimens, their lives suspended in time, are introduced to the light, literally, through Sobsey’s photography. Her imagery conveys a mixture of poetry and objectification peculiar to museums by distilling the essence of a thing while at the same time transforming our perception of it to color, light, and shadow.”
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