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HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > Laszlo Layton: Natural History

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Laszlo Layton
Natural History

This exhibition consists of photographs from two closely related series "Cabinet of Curiosities" and "Pictorial Zoology". The following statements from the artist provide a background to the series:
Cabinet of Curiosities
"This series of photographs evolved from my combined interests in Art and in Zoology. After many years spent painting I decided to explore the use of photography as a fine art medium after researching and learning about its origins in the 19th century. Further research regarding the old methods of print making and the new practitioners of "alternative" photography convinced me that photography could be a medium that involved much hand craft, which is one of the aspects of art making that I love most.
My Cabinet of Curiosities series borrows most heavily from the old illuminated books on nature from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Those scientific tomes were illustrated mostly with engravings and lithographs of drawings—usually taken, not from nature, but from mounted specimens or written accounts of the animal species as interpreted by the artist. What these illustrations may have lacked in scientific accuracy they more than made up for in artistic expression. In later years, with the widespread use of photography to document, the illustrated nature book was able to reveal living creatures, often photographed in their natural surroundings. While our 20th century natural history books were much more scientifically accurate, there is a certain romantic charm that I admire in the earlier illustrations that is lacking in the photographic representations.
With this series I am attempting to recapture and distill the essence of those old natural history illustrations, but through the photographic medium. Add to this mix my own artistic interpretations through use of light, composition, and sometimes, color.
In homage to my favorite photography movement, pictorialism, I have chosen to photograph this series exclusively with vintage soft-focus lenses hand-ground in Boston, Massachusetts by the Pinkham & Smith Company. Pinkham & Smith were opticians who had an interest in photography and designed and manufactured their own lenses made to order for clients including Alfred Stieglitz, F. Holland Day, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Kasebier and George Seeley.
I plan to pursue this series for a number of years so that I can include a great many animal species that are extinct, rare, forgotten, or mostly unfamiliar. Many of the species I have chosen to photograph are species which, for personal reasons, somehow have related to my own life experience, giving the series an autobiographical aspect as well."
Pictorial Zoology
"As a continuation of the Natural History series that I began in 2003, this new group of thirty-six photographs picks up where my last portfolio, Cabinet of Curiosities, left off. While Cabinet of Curiosities was most heavily dominated by bird and mollusk imagery, this group of photographs brings in more representation from the mammal kingdom.
My goal with this series as an homage to 18th and 19th century natural history illustration has remained the same; however, I decided to loosen up my self-imposed rules and criteria for the images and introduced a more creative, and photographic, approach to my subjects. Greater emphasis has now been placed on capturing the mood or attitude of the individual creature rather than how to best represent them in their entirety. The result of my interpretation of nature may be less scientific this time—but hopefully, more artistic as a consequence as the series continues to grow and evolve." 



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