Inspired by her quiet strolls in The Museum of Natural History in Paris, Sarah Moon has captured her discoveries and revelations in a new exhibition, “Alchemies.” The French photographer expresses her vision on various life forms: vegetal, mineral, animal, in such a fleeting manner that these creatures and substances become imaginary. In one hundred photographs, Moon demonstrates the fragile temporality of life.
Most of the photographs were taken at the museum in the summer of 2013. There are some images of live animals, but the exhibition mainly features those that have been taxidermied. In Moon’s photos, no difference between what is dead and what is alive can be discerned. The moment is already bereft of life when Moon enters the scene, yet she immortalises what she sees through photography. She creates an illusion, in order to animate the inanimate. In all her photography, including the fashion photography she is most known for, Moon states that she is like a taxidermist when she photographs because she tries to reinvent what she thinks she saw. As she explains, “I try to work side by side with ghosts, to save the appearance of the forgotten, to create what I have lost…”
The creatures that Moon captures are in cages, confined within the glass windows of the historical museum buildings, trapped and lifeless. When there is not an indication of literal barriers, Moon creates one through her lens. Located in the Grande Gallérie de l’Évolution, Sarah Moon’s exhibition does not present the observations of a scientist, but of an artist.
At first glance, the photographs appear to be x-rays in their grainy and obscure nature. In one image titled, “Pour Renate” taken in 2007, the viewer is brought to ask questions – is that orb the glowing moon, a monocle on a face, or something entirely different? Her collection explores solitary figures, such as a single stork with its back turned to the viewer. A single cluster of trees can be seen in one photo, swallowed by the rolling hills and endless cloudy skies. We are left in limbo, somewhere between a landscape painting and dreamlike visions, which her work can bring to mind. When she does use colour, it is only the deepest shades of emerald and turquoise, with strong hues of crimson. The photographs highlight a colourful array of parrots and flowers, injecting a dose of vibrancy into the collection.
The exhibition traces Moon’s deep and dark insight into nature. By immortalising what has once lived and is now deceased through the means of photography, Moon seizes the ephemeral essence of the world we live in. She transforms something common into something special. This is alchemy.
Words/ Sheri Chiu