So here’s the scene. I’m on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago, with a couple of other photographers, walking across a field trying to find an interesting landscape image or two, when I notice something lying on the ground about 40 or 50 metres away. Curiosity piqued, I wander over to get a closer look and discover that it’s the carcass of a reindeer. What caused the animal’s death? Goodness knows, disease, injury, fatigue? I’ll never know but the animal has clearly been lying there for some time and has been mostly picked clean by scavengers, its ribs exposed and its fur scattered about it.
This is part of the life cycle in the arctic, the reindeer's demise aiding the survival of the scavengers that fed on it. Question was, how to photograph it? Is it possible to make art out of carrion? In the end I attempted three different approaches. The first image shows the scene in its grizzly detail, the full animal, clearly identifiable. I was fascinated by the way the fur of the animal was spread thickly on the ground around it. If you think about it though it makes sense.
One of the key scavengers on the island is the glaucous gull (photos of which I’ve displayed in previous posts) which plucks the fur in order to expose the meat underneath. It’s not hard to visualize a flock of gulls covering the animal and pecking it from all directions.
The second approach was to take a wider view and show the carcass in the setting of the arctic landscape. This enabled me to balance the image in terms of the carcass filling the foreground whilst the landscape provides the background. Hopefully this provides the image, the subject, with context.
The third approach was to go in close, picking out a detail such as the hoof, and making it almost abstract. I took numerous frames before I was happy with the result shown. Taking the shot meant leaning over the carcass with the camera held at arm’s length and trying to guess the composition. Then checking the image display on the rear of the camera and adjusting my position little by little until I arrived at this image.
So back to the post title. Can there be Art in Death? Well we could ponder all day what constitutes art and probably not agree in the end anyway. For me, I’m pleased with the images I was able to achieve, if others get something out of them, well that’s a bonus! :-) ~KD.