Presenting the spectacular double act of the photograph and the taxidermy specimen.

Murphy, Alexandra (2016) Presenting the spectacular double act of the photograph and the taxidermy specimen. In: Consuming (the) Victorians BAVS conference, 31 Aug – 2 Sept, 2016., Cardiff University.

Full text not available from this repository. (Request a copy)


The Victorians made significant developments with regards to photographic processes, museum collections and psychology. Through psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s metapsychology, this project explores dialectical connections found between the photograph and the museum taxidermy specimen. Freud’s controversial metapsychology, in particular the death-drive, explored Triebentmischung – the organism’s struggle to diffuse the tension between the lifedrive and the death-drive in its attempt to survive, but that in the end a return to a state of inertia was inevitable. In pursuit of life, the Victorians explored preservation processes in both photographic and taxidermy crafts, attempting to defy death of both the physical object and the representational subject, thereby fashioning a cultural ‘celebration of death’. The nineteenth-century museum illustrated what Tony Bennett, in his book, The Birth of the Museum, called the ‘exhibitionary complex’ – a public display of objects, previously hidden in private collections. As with Michel Foucault’s definition of heterotopia, the museum became an encapsulated institutional display of order, knowledge and spectacle. Victorian hunter-collectors returned from afar with exotic game for natural history displays that bred awe and spectacle in the museum visitor. Displays and dioramas meticulously constructed by the conservationist’s craft of preservation, recreated archetypal ecological environments to present specimens defiant against decay and death. Philosopher Walter Benjamin believed that the photograph had a dialectical ability to record something inherent in the subject, not observable to the naked eye. If the photograph has a dialectical ability to represent both the past (death) and the present (life), then in photographing taxidermy specimens and re-representing them, there is a possibility that the photograph changes what we see. This project considers the probability that as a consequence of Victorian cultural and scientific endeavors, both the taxidermy specimen and the photograph, in a defiant double act, can simultaneously represent and defy the death-drive.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Other)
Depositing User: RED Unit Admin
Date Deposited: 21 May 2021 08:10
Last Modified: 21 May 2021 08:10

Actions (login required)

Edit Item Edit Item