1883 caught up with German art photographer Christian Voigt to discuss Evolution, his latest series capturing some of the world’s most iconic dinosaur skeletons from museums across Europe.
What’s more exciting than dinosaurs? A photographic series that – almost – brings them back to life, of course.
For his latest series, Evolution, German art photographer Christian Voigt has travelled across Europe to photograph a rather unusual subject: dinosaur skeletons.
Taken in near laboratory conditions using large format cameras, the photos, which include portraits of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus and Triceratops Duo, are no less than jaw-dropping. Characterised by crispy contours and x ray-like details, the series has been described as “more real than real life”, giving the impression of movement to the fossils.
After successful shows in Amsterdam and New York, Evolution has finally landed in London. Keen to find out more about Evolution, we sat down for a chat with Christian Voigt to discuss his work.
How did your Series, Evolution, come to be?
After I finished my Himalaya Series in 2017, I returned to my preferred subject: Inner-Architecture. I was given the opportunity to photograph the Hintze Hall in the Natural History Museum London which I was really happy about, as I had been very keen to take this photo for a very long time.
After the shoot, which took place in the very early morning hours without the public, I still had some time before the museum opened so I wandered the museum for a while longer. As I had been confronted by the dinosaur skeletons for some time during the shoot in the great Hintze Hall, I took the opportunity and captured some test photographs of the skeletons at the museum. When I started to work with the images, the idea to shoot a series became concrete. The following weeks and months, I tried to figure out how I could capture dinosaur skeletons in the most unique way possible.
My photoshoot at The Natural History Museum in London was the birthplace of the Evolution journey throughout European and American Natural History Museums.
What fascinates you the most about dinosaurs and fossils?
These creatures ruled the world approximately 66 – 235 million years ago. The knowledge that these animals dominated life on earth for approximately 170 Million years is overwhelming. Compare this with 100,000 years for the homo sapiens.
During my research, I learned a lot about dinosaurs and their surprising way of life. Today scientists know that our world and life as we know it would be extremely different had it not been wiped out by natural disasters. Our lives today are a direct result of the evolutionary processes and when you think about it, the existence of the human race is, scientifically, pure coincidence. Sadly, the way things are going today, mankind is massively intruding in the natural order of things and our evolutionary process, in turn, destroying itself.
It is quite conceivable that one-day other life forms will dig up some human bones. They will reconstruct our past as we do with dinosaurs and other fossils today. To deal with dinosaur fossils it means to reflect on our own existence.
I understand the pictures were taken under carefully controlled conditions; what was the most challenging aspect of the project?
I was looking for the most original and complete skeletons for the Evolution series. Many museums show reconstructions of originals or parts of skeletons mixed with reconstructions. I want to show the bone structure with traces that time has left. As detail and resolution is part of my overall work, I had to find the museums, see the exhibitions and finally, get permission to shoot the chosen skeletons out of business hours.
Part of my concept was to highlight the uniqueness of every single animal and give them the exclusivity of one photo. I had the idea to make them look real or at least give them their own space in a dedicated frame. This is not very easy as most museums show many skeletons packed into one room. The position was the first and most challenging part of every photograph, as I, of course, could not move or even touch any of the skeletons.
I also had to find the right solution for the lighting situation. I am not working with any artificial light in general. So, I had to deal with whatever lighting was provided in the space. In order to avoid reflections and to ensure the backdrop was dark, I used a big self-made black cloth on tripods that I could either put behind the camera or the skeletons.
Every museum was different, but I am very happy with the results.
Do you have a favorite photo from the series?
All of the photos published are special to me. Some, because of their position and lighting, others because the animals are just impressive in size and their original condition. But if I had to choose, one of my favourite photos is the ‘Triceratops Duo’.
What type of cameras did you shoot with?
I work with a system camera of the Swiss company ALPA. These cameras work analog and have unique advantages, such as a shift function for the lenses. This allows me to take distortion-free images of large objects, landscapes or rooms. I combine this camera with a digital back that can capture extremely high-resolution images. I take several photos with different exposure times and lens positions. The final development is a very time-consuming process but the results are excellent.
As a final question, may I ask what you have planned after Evolution? What can we look out for next?
I am working on two new ideas at the moment. I am still in the process of finding the right way how to bring my ideas to photo. This will take some time, so it is much too early to talk about it.
words and interview by Jacopo Nuvolari