Richard Ross: Dust and Death

By April Rapier

Richard Ross: Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle. at The Houston Center for Photography, January 4 to February 10.

Richard Ross's large (15x15 and 30x30) color images of taxidermied animals both startle and delight. He found his subjects in the Mu­seum National d ‘Histoire Naturelle, Paris, which has been in existence for over 350 years. The lighting — or lack of it — is completely suit­able to the spirit of things: during some rather long exposures. Ross had the 'distinct suspicion that some of the animals had moved." They seem robust and very alive within the darkness and warmth of the prints, m spite of evidence to the contrary (bowls of mothballs in the display cases) Their gestures are amazingly spirited, moth-eaten fur and tattered feathers notwith­standing. The faces are especially expressive and dramatic, fangs and claws bared, attack postures re­created, blood drawn.
Hundreds of beautiful birds, the color shifts in their markings dis­tinctive and minimal, are lined up in cases, perched on ornate pedestals, meticulous labels their legacy-Ross presents to the viewer a theatrical aspect missing in modern museums and dioramas. The dust of decline h ever present, thickening the air, most potent and impressive in the large overviews.
Some animals are draped or completely wrapped in brown paper, the shroud a further mys­tery. Their animation is illustrated best by the countless variations in the tilted heads of row upon row of birds — all striking sad poses, gathered to reminisce.