statement

Dead Things We Find is a collection of images of found dead animals and a visual investigation of death.

We live in a culture where death is denied and washed away from daily life.

To be interested in death is culturally taboo, and work concerning it must be prefaced as either gruesome or scientific. Outside of these contexts, however, there is no place for death. Animals are a particularly special case, as they exist for us primarily as reflections of ourselves. In industrialized societies, animals have become marginalized from their own histories, and, in turn, so have we. We cannot understand their existence. Although they possess comparable internal anatomies, the sight of a dead animal does not elicit the same unease as does a dead human. When we find a dead animal in the course of our daily life and travel – one that is not contextualized/commodified by a glass case or a laboratory manual – the experience is uncomfortable, but not emotional. We would like for them to disappear for us completely, much in the way we do a pile of trash on the side of the road.

A found dead animal is one of the few examples of an animal that is not commodified: it is simply a creature whose natural life came to an end in the midst of an environment inhabited by people. Perhaps it is a reminder that we can never truly posses the spaces in which we live.

People primarily interpret the world in expected ways.  These modes of explanation are learned from people around us, and affect how we interact with our environment and its inhabitants. Usually, people learn to interpret the natural and scientific world from other people, rather than directly from nature.  The pursuit of scientific knowledge develops its own criteria for judging truth: just as human values shape the way that nature and the natural world are quantified and prioritized, scientific knowledge itself has risen to justify and transform many aspects of social, economic and political systems. [1]

The way we look at the natural world shapes the social, linguistic and cultural consequences of scientific knowledge.

In his essay Why Look at Animals? John Berger describes the way that the relationship between animal and man has been destroyed. Referring to humans in industrialized societies, he deems us “urban strangers,” alluding to our lack of understanding about the dualism between animal and man.  For us, animals have come to be simply a reflection of ourselves, and now represent one of two things: family (e.g. a family pet), or spectacle (e.g. animals picture books, cartoons, or those in a public zoo). The mysteries, secrets, and metaphors of animals are lost in these new relationships. Wild animals (those that are not familiarized or sensationalized) reflect an aspect of man that remains natural, or wishes to become natural once again. As a result, the wild animal becomes idealized.

Berger notes, “in the last two centuries, animals have gradually disappeared. Today we live without them … what we know about them is an index of our power, and thus an index of what separates us from them.” Because of this separation, animals are both physically and culturally marginalized from their own histories and, in turn, so are we.  [2]

Looking at dead animals has traditionally taken place in a controlled atmosphere: either in the practice of dissection in a laboratory or during a veterinary autopsy, or in museums after the deliberate collection, taxidermy, and arrangement of specimens (as in the work of Alexander Akeley). Once dead, an animal can take on a new life, as it does during scientific investigations. In other cases, the animal takes on a new productive use in relation to man – it is commodified. Donna Haraway suggests that taxidermy turns the animal into “a servant of the ‘real’,” giving it a new use for people. [3] Alternatively, as is often the case of animals that die in the urban environment (road kill, etc.), they become completely useless and, as such, remain truly dead.

Upon seeing a dead animal (one that has no productive use and no relationship with people i.e. is not commodified) the immediate reaction is disgust or discomfort. This is not an emotional reaction, like a response to a human death.

At the site or suggestion of its insides (its organs, internal anatomy, and other things that are felt to exist inside of a living creature such as consciousness or emotion) we instantaneously imagine our own inside, and we place ourselves in the animal. At this moment the dualism between man and animal is broken, and a momentary consciousness of our own history is regained. Dead Things We Find is an exploration of this moment, and seeks to preserve it in the form of an image. It both affirms and questions our position as “urban strangers”, and asks us to better understand that role.


[1] Cook, Harold John. Matters of Exchange: commerce, medicine, and science in the Dutch Golden Age. 2007.

[2] John Berger. About Looking. Vinatge Books: New York, 1980.

[3] Donna Haraway. Teddy Bear Patriarchy: The Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-1936.www.columbia.edu/cu/irwag/pdf-files/haraway3.pdf, retrieved January 9th, 2010.