A Natural History (Built to be Seen)
17 April 2022 -  23 April 2022

A Natural History (Built to be Seen) is a series of photographic observations of the spectacular and absurd ways the western natural world is presented in museums. As someone who grew up visiting natural history museums, I've always been fascinated by the extravagant ways museums framed the American landscape. Dramatic dioramas, interactive virtual experiences, and miniaturized landscapes all act as windows into the natural world. While this framing acts as a guide for reading and understanding nature, the same frame can be analyzed to understand the complex and ever-changing relationship between people and land.

With this in mind, I want to understand the ways that natural history museums and the American landscape affect one another. By contrasting and connecting the interior spaces of museums with exterior spaces, like National Parks and scenic viewpoints, the constructed qualities of both become clear. Because of the similar ways nature is distorted and simplified in my photographs, what is artificial or natural, inside or outside, becomes indistinguishable. The ambiguity created by photographing displays like this allows for scenes that once feel natural, to suddenly be revealed as completely fabricated. By relating the microcosm of natural history museums to the macrocosm of the larger American landscape, the cultural understandings and at times absurd expectations of what is “natural” come to the forefront of the project.

Museums teach us about our environment, but often separate us from it. In an age of global climate crisis, it’s imperative to re-evaluate our understanding of nature. By creating images that subvert the viewer's ideas of what is natural or not, I’m asking the viewer to recognize how influential museum nature is on their understanding of the larger natural world

Austin Cullen (b. 1989, Houston, Texas) is a photographer and publisher currently based in Brooklyn, New York.

He received his BFA from Stephen F. Austin State University in 2019, and is currently in his final year of his graduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to his own studies at UNL, Austin also works as a gallery assistant in the Eisentrager Howard Gallery, and as a Graduate Instructor of Record. He first became interested in photography in high school.

The first images he made were shot on film and printed in the darkroom, and this quickly sparked his interest in the medium. Soon after, Austin decided to pursue photography as a career. His current project explores museum natural displays and the natural world, and how they influence and affect one another. This project stems from his long-standing interest in natural history museums and the history of display.



︎   ︎