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.