Jim Naughten is an artist who understands the transformative
effects that photography can have on a subject. In each of
his previous projects he has been concerned with reanimating
history. His latest images of Victorian and Edwardian zoo-
logical specimens continue this overarching visual enquiry
but incorporate in addition a fascinating venture into three-
dimensional imaging. They are captivating enough even when
seen in two dimensions. But once you plunge into the marvel
of their stereoscopic depth you are transfixed. Through the
act of viewing, an intangible transformation takes place. While
the photographs exist in physical form on paper, they also live
as an experience, a beautiful illusion held in the mind.

These immaculate stereographs will have practical application
from a purely documentary or scientific point of view; yet they
also provoke more esoteric responses. Witnessed in three
dimensions, the specimens in fluid and articulated skeletons
become sculptural. The bellying of a ribcage, the swoop of a
tail, or the turn of a head is an expressive form in space. It is
tempting to anthropomorphise these animals. Many of the
creatures here seem to possess a character that is enhanced
or revealed through the photographs, as if they were acting
or knowingly sitting for their portraits. The Lar Gibbon and
Flap Necked Chameleon look like jokers; the Porcupine Fish
is startled; a Young Female Orangutan appears deflated; the
Atlantic Cod is angry; and the Leafy Sea Dragon is a real
coquette. Examining the tracery of the bones in the Eurasian
Curlew’s wings and its rapier-like beak sharpens my senses.
Following the arranged arabesques of the Atlantic White
Spotted Octopus’s arms, I am reminded of the influence of
the natural world that forged Art Nouveau.

Naughten embodies the fertile marriage between nature
and art in his Animal Kingdom. He dedicated a year refining
the project, solving technical challenges and gathering
images during visits to numerous museums. The photo-
graphs are individually coherent, but form part of a typology,
a comparative study of types. Embracing the aesthetic and
working reality of the archive, he shows the patina of time
and handling in the fading labels, old typefaces and peeling
black backing paint of the specimens in fluid. He also echoes
museums’ classification systems, arranging his final edited
fifty images into five groups — Marine, Reptile, Mammal,
Avian and Primate – reflecting the sequential and chrono-
logical evolution of man.

A sense of boyhood fascination is captured in Naughten’s
project. He is the nascent scientific collector of weird
treasures, creating his own understanding of the world
through a process of discovery and systematic gathering.
The simple joy of looking is captured here too. Viewing
these photographs in stereo forces attention on a single
subject, and the act of observation is necessarily solitary:
one subject to one viewer at a time. Relative scale of the
specimens becomes ambiguous and the experience is
akin to being absorbed while looking down a microscope.
The impression of time passing, and the world outside,
momentarily slips away and an intensified consciousness
takes over. A whole universe frozen in time is reanimated
and elegantly represented. It is like a secret cabinet of
curiosities with its doors unexpectedly wide open.

Martin Barnes
Senior Curator of Photographs
Victoria and Albert Museum, London