Installation view, El Medio Terrestre, Museo Archivo de la Fotografía. Mexico City, 2012.


A Return to the Diorama

It seems now that Louis Daguerre (1787-1851) might not be the unquestionable author of the daguerrotype, the great creation that bears his name. If so, humanity owes Joseph-Nicéphore Niépce for the invention that allowed the development of modern photography. However, what Daguerre did create was the diorama. This particular innovation radically transformed museography and presentation of naturalist and anthropological collections. Taxidermic pieces left the windows and display cabinets, where they were exhibited, and were brought into the diorama, this new scenic dimension where they were shown not only ”as they were in real life” but also where they could take part in a more complicated narrative, where scenery and their interaction with other pieces allowed the viewer to imagine and understand the environment in which they lived.

It is in the three-dimensional space of the diorama of the 19th century where painting, theater, design, and photography converge with the curiosity of naturalists and scientists, creating the museographic language that dominated natural history museums until the end of the 20th century.

In making taxidermy and the diorama the object of his photographic gaze, Ilán Rabchinskey returns to the origin of photography, to the encounter fostered by Daguerre between the visual arts and scientific knowledge. He returns after two centuries of the development of photography and cinema, ranging from the knowledge of evolution to the discovery of the human genome but, also, after two hundred years of nature being devastated by humans. This outlook could only be melancholic: if, 200 years ago, preserved animals in apparently natural settings caused fear and fascination, today these same pieces can lead us to despair. No longer do they show us a world that beats beyond the borders of human societies, but rather what is threatened or definitely extinct due to the social and industrial development of the human species.

Contemplating the crystal stare of wolves, lions, tigers and giraffes it is impossible not to question the sense of our existence and our deeds in the world. Perhaps this ethical question has to do with Rabchinskey’s need to see the diorama from inside, our eyes taking the place of the animal. This perspective makes visible the internal architecture of the space and unveils its fictional mechanism. Thusly, these immense creatures that once lived in deserts and jungles are, today, actors frozen in dramatic postures, performing the last representation of a wounded planet.

Standing in front of a diorama, one can only be as a child fascinated by the life it discovers. That is why I stare with renewed amazement at Rabchinskey's images and his ability to bring out the character of these brothers of ours who we sacrifice. I hold that, in each picture, the photographer gives them back the grandeur and dignity that time, dust, and the insensibility of the contemporary world has taken away.

Eduardo Vázquez Martín

Installation views, El Medio Terrestre, Museo Archivo de la Fotografía. Mexico City, 2012.

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