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Akeley inside the elephant: Trajectory of a taxidermic image

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As a process distinct from its poured cousin, sprayed concrete involves using compressed air to propel cement with various chemical admixtures at a surface. Used in tunnelling for rock surface stabilization, and above ground for securing slopes and fabricating fake rockeries, its chimeric character ranges from the polished landscapes of skateparks and swimming pools to mimicking cast concrete in structural repair work. The origins of this industrial process lie with taxidermist Carl E. Akeley (1864–1926), who invented it during his pioneering work in the proto-photographic field of natural habitat dioramas at the Chicago Field Museum in 1907. Further cementing AndrĂ© Bazin’s notion of photography as embalmment, Akeley also invented a unique 35mm cine camera during his time at the American Museum of Natural History, New York. The essay explores this historical intersection between photography, taxidermy and architecture, and its wider implications for thinking through photography’s material contingency.
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Keywords: Carl Akeley; James Tiptree Jr; Paul Strand; cinematography; realism; robotics; sprayed concrete; taxidermy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Camberwell College of Arts

Publication date: 01 October 2016

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  • Philosophy of Photography is a new peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scholarly understanding of photography. It is not committed to any one notion of photography nor, indeed, to any particular philosophical approach. The purpose of the journal is to provide a forum for debate on theoretical issues arising from the historical, political, cultural, scientific and critical matrix of ideas, practices and techniques that may be said to constitute photography as a multifaceted form. In a contemporary context remarkable for its diversity and rate of change, the conjunction of the terms 'philosophy' and 'photography' in the journal's title is intended to act as a provocation to serious reflection on the ways in which existing and emergent photographic discourses might engage with and inform each other.
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