Peter Tonningsen Alameda
Descent is an immersion into the visual promise of an analytical world; a mournful ballad resulting from a marriage of art and science that began when I was invited to come to U.C. Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ) to draw from their collections for artistic inspiration. I was immediately elated with the promise of this opportunity as I am generally interested in the mystique of science and the ideals and process of collection. I found myself especially taken with their bird samplings and worked with this archive off and on for about a year and a half to create a series of more than 60 non-ornithological specific collages that sought to enliven and renew these perished birds while concurrently celebrating the astonishing visual allure of the collection.
I call this series Descent because it refers to what has befallen these lovely creatures; a requiem of sorts commemorating their loss of life and flight and the fact that they have been eternally grounded for the sake of categorical examination. There is no scientific or analytical worth to this series, but instead it is intended to accentuate the often-overlooked beauty and substance inherent in such postmortem scientific study and compilation. I am particularly drawn to how these specimens take on new importance through my composites. Collaged with images of specimens from other departments and information extracted from field notes, histology slides, maps, and scientific texts obtained from MVZ archives, each bird is available for closer scrutiny and speculation about its particular history, story and station in this collection.
Most of the imagery utilized in this series comes from direct scans of the specimens and records. I have been exploring the use of a flatbed scanner as a means of image making for the past few years and am excited about how this tool challenges the traditional definition of a photograph. Made without a camera, film, or paper coated with light-sensitive emulsion, I never imagined that I could make photographs without these essential components or that I would be working in this manner when I started photography years ago. I am drawn to the physicality of this process and the immediacy and tactile nature this form embraces. Looking at these images, I feel as though I am underneath the specimen itself: in contact with it, touching it, sensing its weight, volume and texture, and I find that visceral quality curious and thrilling.