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New photography exhibition explores "life, its transience, its fragility, and its persistence"
Cobra.I/II/III (triptych) Carbon pigment print. Each size: 20 x 20 in. Each image on 30 x 36 paper. © 2011 Deborah Samuel.

TORONTO.- In their first-ever collaboration, the ROM’s Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity and its Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) present Elegy: Deborah Samuel, an exhibition featuring a new series of images from Canadian photo-based artist Deborah Samuel. Making its world premiere at the ROM, the exhibition is being displayed in the Museum’s Hilary and Galen Weston Wing, Level 2, until Monday, July 2, 2012. Elegy is also a featured exhibition at this year’s Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

The exhibition includes 33 photographs, including 10 commissioned by the ROM highlighting specimens from its collections. ROM curatorial staff has contributed to the enlightening captions accompanying the photographs. Samuel’s initial focus in this project was birds - well represented in the exhibition. However, her scope broadened to include other vertebrates’ remains, including a lizard, soft-shelled turtle, fish, anteater, wolverine, and, notably, a cobra highlighted in a triptych.

Deborah Samuel says, “Elegy is about life - its transience, its fragility, and its persistence. It’s also about these same qualities in photography. The tender gestures of skeletal fingers and toes, so miniscule, offer a glimpse of the delicate boundary between life and death. With these innocent bones we are free to speculate on our own mortality, without fear, but, instead, with appropriate curiosity and reverence. I’m happy to premiere this collection at the ROM in conjunction with its Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity and Institute for Contemporary Culture.”

"Bridging the gap between art and science is an important step towards engaging a broader, more diverse audience," states Dave Ireland, the ROM’s Managing Director, Biodiversity Programs. "This partnership with Deborah’s Elegy exhibit can only improve our audiences' awareness of natural history and the state of our planet’s biodiversity."

Francisco Alvarez, Managing Director, ICC, elaborates, "The ICC is pleased to co produce this exhibition, the first ICC show in recent history that addresses the natural world. Nature is a critical aspect of contemporary culture and one half of the ROM's mandate. Looking ahead to 2013, nature, the environment and climate change will be key themes examined in ICC exhibitions."

In Elegy, Deborah Samuel’s focus is the aspect of the animal anatomy most impervious to the ravages of time - the shells and skeletal systems lending shape to otherwise amorphous biological mass. As the display’s poetic photographs illustrate, the rigid bones of a creature continue to suggestively animate its vanished outer form long after flesh and spirit are gone. The exhibition provides a reflective meditation on the life/death divide, at the same time as the specimens tell stories that transcend basic scientific documentation.

Elegy is a project borne out of personal losses for Deborah Samuel, as well as her anger at the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Horrified by the environmental disaster, Samuel tried to go to Louisiana to photograph and document the thousands of affected, oiled birds, but was prohibited from doing so by both government and BP regulations. Her intention, instead, to work with bird skeletons soon evolved into a great fascination with anatomy for Samuel. Being a strong long-time animal advocate, Samuel began to ponder many aspects of the animal world – their interpersonal relationships; what disturbed them; the methods by which they stayed together; how they looked after one other. Far beyond their physical attributes, their emotions and their relationships held great interest for the photographer.

The images in Elegy are captured by placing physical specimens on a flatbed scanner, a method allowing Samuel to work with the image to achieve her desired representation. This innovative technique highlights the issue of fixed image versus a fluid image in photography, a debate which Samuel fully embraces.

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