Leah Sobsey became fascinated with museum collections after a childhood visit to the storage vault at Chicago’s Field Museum. The artist has developed a photographic practice inspired by an interest in capturing both natural and manmade materials preserved in national park collections. Combining digital and antique processes, her photographs suspend time. Sobsey’s images of ethnographic and natural specimens aren’t merely records of objects; rather, they illuminate a neglected history of natural and human worlds. The artist notes, “My current focus on national parks is a way of preserving these fragile specimens that represent American history. This comes at a time when climate change and funding allocations threaten indigenous species and artifacts with extinction.” Sobsey’s photographs transform the collections she studies (often forgotten records of the past) into living, vital representations of our present moment. Murmuration presents a grid of images from the natural world—views of flocking starlings captured in motion. The artist notes that this experience of being completely surrounded by birds led her to make Swarm, her own concocted migration of butterflies: the artist photographed butterfly collections found in National Park archives and repositories and printed them as cyanotypes—a 175-year-old printing technique. She then cut these out and attached them to the gallery walls as if they were once again in flight. In her series Bones and Artifacts, Sobsey selected objects pulled from the park grounds—maybe during excavations—and photographed each one against a black background. Small and frameless, they are objects of the past now made part of the present, conjured out of the darkness by the artist and her camera.
About the artist
Leah Sobsey is photographer and educator from Chapel Hill and Durham, N.C. She attended Guilford College, in Greensboro, where she studied Anthropology and Studio Art. Sobsey earned her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and has been on the faculty at UNC Greensboro since 2004. Her new book, Collections: Birds, Bones and Butterflies, published by Daylight Books, is due out this fall.