Animal Afterlives: Photography, Dioramas, and Forgetting that Taxidermy is Dead

Written by Jack Ashby, Assistant Director of the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge.

A key aspect of taxidermy is that it permits the viewer to forget the animal is dead – something that is rather hard to miss when considering skeletons, specimens preserved in fluid, or insects with a pin stuck through them. Allowing ourselves to be tricked into thinking we are looking at a living, breathing – albeit very still – creature is surely one of the reasons that museum visitors so often ask, “Is it real?” when encountering taxidermy on display.

Eventually, it is the stillness that breaks the illusion, along with the obvious realisation that, no, it simply isn’t possible for a live tiger/antelope/walrus to be sat there behind glass in an urban building.

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