Bizarre or trending subjects, catch a break with our curiosity of the week. In Upper West Side Safari, Adam Powell humorously highlights the absurdity of the dioramas on display at New York City‘s Museum of Natural History.
British photographer Adam Powell, who has lived in New York for the past five years, has achieved the impossible: to capture a safari in the heart of a metropolis. Taken with a flash, his images stand out. Ostriches, gazelles, penguins and leopards appear, frozen in absurd postures, their shadows tracing grotesque silhouettes on the coloured backgrounds. The artist put together Upper West Side Safari inside the city’s Museum of Natural History. A cultural space housing an impressive collection of taxidermy. “The museum is a gem, most of it hasn’t been updated in decades and as a result it feels like you’re stepping back in time. The dioramas are beautiful; stunning paintings are the backdrop to masterful taxidermy and lifelike fake plants, but in the age of David Attenborough documentaries they have become somewhat dated. They have developed a slightly awkward charm over the decades, which is what I wanted to highlight with the photos”, the photographer tells us.
Confronting reality with its surreal dimension
Adam Powell started taking photographs when he arrived in the United States. “My father gave me his old camera shortly after I moved to New York City. I used photography to explore my new surroundings”, he recalls. Initially fascinated by the fringe cultures swarming the New York City neighbourhoods, he is now interested in “people-less photos” – a new way of capturing the world that emerged in the midst of the health crisis. “I couldn’t walk around the city anymore, so I focused on these images that I thought were funny”, he says. With an unfailing sense of humour, the photographer now works to reveal, through a quirky aesthetic, the amusing and meaningless parts of our daily lives.
Inspired by the book Unnatural History by Steven Davis, who also photographed the curious timelessness of the American museum, Adam Powell seeks, in Upper West Side Safari, to confront reality with its surreal dimension. Taken with a flash, his images focus on the faces of the animals, staged in feigned actions. “I’ve often wondered about how my visual style would translate to nature photography. Taking photos of dead animals in glass cases was a safe and affordable alternative to going on a real safari”, jokes the author, who, after shooting seagulls, pigeons, rats and squirrels in the streets of New York, wanted to “go more exotic”. A outstanding ensemble. As absurd as they are hilarious, the pictures remind us of our fascination with the wild world – and our desire to tame it. Although the photographer denies any ethical or environmentalist approach, we cannot help but question our obsessions when we look at his compositions. By underlining the eccentricity of these artificial dioramas, Adam Powell succeeds, in any case, in calling us out on our most dubious tastes.
© Adam Powell