A buffalo stands horns to head with a man who is calmly vacuuming the snow-covered plains beneath its feet. A herd of plastic-wrapped zebras surrounds a giraffe, while a man on scaffolding above paints them a lovely trompe l'oeil sky. Photographer Richard Barnes has spent more than ten years documenting the way we assemble, contain, and catalog the natural world. Barnes's behind-the-scenes photographs are haunting reminders that there is nothing natural about a natural history museum.
Animal Logic, Barnes's first monograph, collects four related species of his photographic work that touch on themes relevant to science, history, archaeology, and architecture. Through his lens sights and objects normally hidden from public view—half-installed dioramas, partially wrapped specimens, anatomical models, exploded skulls, and taxidermied animals in shipping crates—take on a strange beauty. Barnes peels back layers of artifice to reveal the tangle of artistry, craftsmanship, and curatorial decisions inside every lifelike diorama and meticulously arranged glass case. Animal Logic investigates both the human desire to construct artificial worlds for "the wild" and the haunting and poignant worlds the real wild constructs. Barnes's camera freezes migrating starlings to reveal the visual poetry hidden inside their dense formations. His extraordinary photographs of birds' nests constructed from detritus—string, plastic, milkweed, tinsel, hair, dental floss, pine needles—sculpturally embody our often complicated relationship with nature. Animal Logic presents more than 120 of Barnes's photographs and includes essays by Jonathan Rosen of the New York Times and curator Susan Yelavich, which explore the themes that emerge from Barnes's unique body of work.