Artist Justine Cooper's large-format photographs of the scientific collections at the American Museum of Natural History document the intersection of science, curation, and human curiosity. More about Justine Cooper.
As objects and specimens come into the AMNH collections, they are accessioned, meaning they are assigned a number and a record of accompanying data. These are some of thee first accession books, from the gems and minerals department. Most of this collection is on display in the public museum, a rarity for most department's collections.
Its impossible to convey the way things smell in a photograph, especially in the case of this 100-year-old foot locker. Cooper says she was deeply fond of the museum's smells nearly all of them bad including the smell of Dermestid beetles eating flesh off specimens' bones, the Para dichlorobenzene and napththalene used for killing bug infestations, and the alcohol used for preserving wet specimens.
Collected in 1911 by famed dinosaur hunter Barnum Brown, this skull of a late Cretaceous dinosaur is an almost complete specimen. Judging from its mount, the skull was a former exhibit piece in the museum.
Vivid 1970s orange cabinets in the Herpetoloy department represent just one of the dozens of colors of cabinets in the collection.
Cabinets in one of the museum's newest remodeled areas hold Tibetan, Pacific, and Asian artifacts. The blue cabinets in the background hold North American artifacts.
These elephant skulls are located in the attic of the museum, one of its last remaining 19th-century storage places. At the time of the photograph, they were soon to depart to a meta-tagged cold storage space. Their slow disintegration from the heat and light clarified the importance of scientific preservation, and motivated Cooper to shoot her series.
These newspaper-wrapped Cretaceous bones (75-65 million years old) have not been unwrapped since they were excavated nearly 100 years ago.
First collected in 1898 by the Englishman A.S. Meek, these birds ended up in famed collector Lord Walter Rothschild's collection at Tring. When a wealthy aristocratic former mistress blackmailed him, Rothschild was forced to sell the larger part of his collection to AMNH in 1931 for $225,0000, about a dollar per specimen.
This rhinocerous specimen is stored in the hide room, a two-storied multi-racked chamber labeled with a NO ENTRY sign. The poisons used in the original preservation make it a present-day toxic hazard, so Cooper took this photograph faster than any of the others.
The key to this cafe full of rack mounts was long gone, and so the lock had to be picked so Cooper could gain entry.
Glass eye notwithstanding, Cooper related to this lonesome specimen, which had no data attachedit is a relic from the past with no scientific value.
Until recently, most of the specimens in natural history collections were used for taxonomic studies where the principal goal was to preserve their morphology their physical properties. But new techniques allow the chemical information contained in specimens to be examined as well. The AMNH's liquid nitrogen frozen tissue colelciton was the first in the world. It's housed in a room no bigger than a two-car garage, yet it holds more than one million specimens.
A motley crew of specimens wait to have their carpet beetle infestations dealt with by a visit to the -20°C freezer located behind the silver door.
A fiberglass mold of Homo Ergaster, an early human who would have used simple stone tools and may have hunted.
These dazzling butterfliers were photographed in natural light, rare to find in a storage space. It echoes the brilliance of the living specimen.
The Carnivore Room in the AMNH's department of Mammalogy houses large cat skins with interesting origins, including one that was tagged "gift of Central Park Zoo, 1944" and another tagged "Lord & Taylor cold storage."