Taxidermied animals reawakened in new photographs by Liza Dracup

The photographer talks to Daisy Wyatt about her new exhibition, based on the Bradford Museums & Galleries' taxidermy specimens

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The Independent Culture

At first glance these animals could be alive, but a closer look reveals a sewn up badger’s mouth, a goose with no eye and wires protruding from a squirrel’s foot.

These photographs by Liza Dracup explore the nature of taxidermied animals in a new exhibition by Bradford Museums & Galleries.

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Taken from the galleries’ natural sciences collection, Dracup photographed the animals with the same stillness as if they were display specimens.

“I wanted the photographs to be removed from something sentimental,” she says. “They are more like studies of the specimen, presented in the gallery with their Latin names. I wanted to be true to what had gone before.”

But she says she also wanted the viewer to have some relationship with the animals, and think about their place in nature.

Her photograph of the badger and fox looking mauled from below was intended to “prick people’s consciousness” about the environment.

“The badger’s paws have got nails through them so some references to badger culling are there. There are lots of interpretations to be read through the work – the sticking together of the badger’s mouth, and the unusualness of the fox.”

Although she handled a number of stuffed animals that had been killed more brutally, Dracup decided not to include them in her exhibition Re: Collections.

“I didn’t want to go down the grotesque route, or the caricature route. There was one red squirrel in the collection that was reminiscent of TV character Tufty, which I couldn’t use. There’s a tension within the stillness of the photographs.”

Dracup also wanted to explore the tension of photographing the taxidermied animals, which brings them back to life in presenting them anew to the viewer.

She says she wanted there to be a hint of 'a memento memori' in her work, but also a sense of displacement.

“There is a strange paradox within the photographs, a feeling. The animals are real, but then they’re not. They look alive but they’re not.

“I wanted to explore the stark paradox in photography itself, which is capturing small deaths and fleeting memories, looking back in time and freeze framing.”

Taken with a digital camera, the photographs almost look like they have been carefully touched up on the computer to convey their serene stillness.

Dracup assures they are not, but does not want to give away details about the type of camera and processes she uses.

“Sometimes it’s nice for the viewer to have a few things left to discover,” she says.

Re: Collections by Liza Dracup runs at The Manor House Museum and Art Gallery, Ilkley, West Yorkshire until 2 March 2014.