Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Taphonomy and Art

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Earth Sciences, taphonomy is "[the] study of the transition of all or part of an organism from the biosphere into the lithosphere (i.e. *fossilization). The term was coined by J. A. Efremov in 1940." A subdivision of taphonomy is biostratinomy, which looks at what happens between the time an organism dies and its final burial. This can involve the movement of the body, scavenging, decay, chemical effects and so on. It is no surprise then that a lot of palaeontologists study taphonomy, as it is useful in interpreting the fossils we find; if we know how they decay and what their remains look like in certain situations, then we can identify those phenomena in the fossil record and use them to interpret how the fossils looked when they were alive.

So it seems that I can justify looking at dead animals, as it helps with palaeontology, but that is not the real reason I do it. I find them poetic. I often take pictures of dead animals and find that they are capable of evoking a range of emotions. Some people find this strange, whereas others, including girls, have encouraged me to do it. Sometimes I am struck by the lack of emotion I feel; I know that I am looking at something which has lost its life, which has been killed when it could have gone on living, yet I often feel nothing (this seems to be true when I see rabbits and hedgehogs dead, yet when I see people harming them I get irate). Sometimes I honestly find them funny, which strikes me as even more morbid. But there are times where I get philosophical or emotional, especially when I see something such as a dog (being a dog owner means that the sight of a dead dog can tug the heart strings). I also find them fascinating, especially as they are occasionally animals I have not seen before.

So here are some pictures I have taken over the years, some with comments. Feel free to respond telling me what they made you think of. Have I taken death too lightly? Am I sick? Is this art? I'm dedicating this blog post to my friend Emily, whose blog can be found here.

This is one of my oldest ones, which looks even more poignant in black and white than it did in colour. I love corvids, they are amongst my favourite groups of birds. This one was on Bridlington beach, during a walk with a lady friend who encouraged my unusual photography habits (which nearly got me run over at one point). I don't think I can explain what I love about this image, it might be how broken it looks, as though it never stood a chance.

This was taken on the same holiday, at Reighton Sands, not far from Bridlington (the Yorkshire coast). I love how lifeless this one clearly is, as though it lost some spark very suddenly. I often find fish comical, but this one jumps out at me. We often do not see fish like we do other animals, as though they are not as important, but hopefully people will recognise the horrors of such things as shark-finning (see here for my post on shark-finning, with a depressing video).

Half way through writing this blog post I decided that it would be a good idea to make all of the pictures black and white. That way they look more artistic and I don't look as morbid...

I love how mangled this one looks. It is well on its way to not existing and is beginning to blend in with the assorted rocks and rubbish surrounding it. The phrase "gone but not forgotten" comes to mind in an unusual way. Thanks to my odd fascination, this bird has been immortalised, yet it will only ever be known for its appearance in death, after much decay has taken place. Whilst changing the colours on this one, I inverted them as well, producing an effect I really liked:

This is a porpoise I found dead on the beach at Cleethorpes. I say that I found it, one of my dogs actually did (Peanut is very good at finding dead things, though she likes to roll in them when she finds them). I was fascinated by this one, especially as it was not obvious what it was straight away. You could even see the vertebrae sticking out of the back of it:

Send me a message if you want to see more of the porpoise.

Earlier I said that dead dogs faze me a bit. This one did not. I'm not sure why. I took this photo, and many others, during a field trip to Spain. We were mapping the area (geological mapping) and this area became known as "dead dog bend" as it was near a bend in the road. This thing was huge and for a change I was not the only one taking pictures of it. Towards the end of the trip, 4 days later, I took another picture of it and it had changed somewhat (that's taphonomy for you):

The dog was large, but not the biggest dead animal I have photographed. Around a month before, I went on a fossil collecting trip to Saltwick Bay, Whitby, and saw this enormous dead seal. Its head appears to be buried, but the rest of it can be seen and it gave off quite the stench.

For a while after that I do not seem to have taken pictures of anything dead. It was probably due to the lack of a camera. Until my recent fieldwork (which I still have not written about). I took a few more pictures, but these are my favourites:

I have not edited the colour on this one because it is one of the goriest images. Sometimes that is the appeal with dead things, as it can satiate blood lust. This was one which I honestly found funny, despite its horrifying nature. I even put it up on Facebook with the lyrics to Michael Jackson's Thriller. Poor thing.

Last but not least is this snake, which I found dead on the road during my fieldwork. It was not the only one I found either. I wish I took a picture of it a few days before, when I first saw it, as it was much more three dimensional, whereas here it has almost blended into the road. By now this snake will have completely decayed. I love how the backbone is quite clear and the skin is still clearly that of a snake, yet it is a complete mess.

Well, this is a sample of some of my photography, more specifically my "dead things" collection. If anyone stumbles across this and wants to share their own, feel free to link me. I'd also love it if any poets could get some inspiration out of this. In this blog I have decided not to go into depth about the emotions they evoke, as I would rather let the images speak for themselves. We all experience death in so many ways, which is something to think about.

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