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Picture Show: Museology Revisited

When Richard Ross's visual exploration of natural history museums, Museology, was published by Aperture in 1989, its hallmark...

When Richard Ross's visual exploration of natural history museums, Museology, was published by Aperture in 1989, its hallmark was a series of photographs of museum dioramas depicting animals in built environments. These dioramas, generally set behind a wall of glass that divided the viewer from the object of his or her observation, were constructed so as to capture the essence of an animal within its natural setting. In recent years, however, when Ross returned to those museums, he found that some of the walls had literally been torn down, and the dioramas had been discarded in favor of starker, more open settings for the animals. The fauna, it seemed, had lost their flora.Whether disappearance of environments and dioramas reflects a change in how we learn or evolving curator tastes is unclear, but the shift is both noteworthy and something of a shame. Though it has motivated Ross to take his camera back into museums. "In the future, the whole concept of textbook learning may change so drastically that the need for an individual diorama that captures a moment of space, time, and environment may not be there any more," says Ross. "We're not there yet, though. Right now, we're in a transit, and the dioramas have distinctly changed."What follows is a selection of both original and new photographs.

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Picture Show: Waiting for the End of the World

Self-preservation is something that most humans take quite seriously, and that a few take to extremes. Faced with the real or...

Self-preservation is something that most humans take quite seriously, and that a few take to extremes. Faced with the real or imagined threat of attacks levied by nuclear, biological, and chemical weaponry, some people opt to head 25 feet underground, surrounded by concrete and complex air-filtration systems, surviving off rations and waiting, so to speak, for the end of the world.That's the subject of Richard Ross's Waiting for the End of the World, originally published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2004, for which Ross spent five years traveling over three continents, photographing the interiors of bomb shelters. "I'm a child of the late 1950s," he says. "I grew up in an era of duck-and-cover drills, where we always had to be acquainted with the idea of The Bomb." The exploration took Ross into a series of survivalist spaces, offering a visual index of the lengths to which people will go when they feel abused or threatened. "I ended up photographing an underground bomb shelter in Livermore, California, looking straight up [toward the entry from the surface], and the light was very divine and was essentially apocalyptic," he says. "Some of these people thought they were going to be the new inhabitants of the Garden of Eden. I can't believe that. But when you think back to the illogic of the Bush/Cheney administration, and the world around you is so devolved, the idea of going underground doesn't seem so crazy."

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