Case history: Richard Ross's photographs use camera angles and lighting to give stuffed animals an added dimension. Jane Richards reports
Tuesday 03 May 1994
Ross, who teaches photography at the University of California, spent 10 years exploring the world's great museums. The result of his travels was as he had expected: stuffed animals in natural history museums, together with paintings and sculpture in major art galleries, look the same the world over. From New York to Cairo, Paris to Athens and London to Edinburgh, a rhino in a glass case looks identical. Ross's skill lies in an ability to show us how to see the rhino in a different light - a photographic light. He persuades us to see two lions on a pedestal really fighting and a swan about to break out of its glass case. It's to do with selective lighting, soft glowing colour and unlikely camera angles. Often hilarious - a stuffed deer appears to approach the ticket booth - the pictures highlight the life-like quality of the animals, and indeed the marble statues, against the dusty, decrepit, man- made interiors in which they are preserved.
Behind the scenes, too, in box rooms filled with surplus animals and the heads of giant Egyptian statues, Ross allows us a glimpse of much that we never get to see. A couple of antelope look quizzically through the polythene swathed around their heads, and stone statues seem to breathe through their shrouds. A small stuffed creature peeps out from behind a row of hanging animal skins and odd bits of sculptural torso hang sadly on the wall of a storage room.
Back in the gallery space, Ross subtly indicates the way in which an ordinary object such as a chair or a plant sits uneasily alongside a great painting or piece of sculpture, a stepladder beside a statue. As he says, 'I'm interested in the pedestal as well as the object, the frame as well as the painting . . . the environment has an equal place with the object, the ground is as important as the figure.'
'Museology', a selling exhibition of photographs by Richard Ross, is at the Portfolio Gallery, 43 Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh (031-220 1911) to Sat 7 May
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