Tanya Marcuse: Wax Bodies

Before photography was introduced in the 19th century, scientists employed a range of visual media as observational, educational, and communication tools. In 2006, Tanya Marcuse visited La Specola, a small natural history museum in Florence, Italy, where she saw and became fascinated by a display of wax anatomical models sculpted in the 18th century to document anatomy, childbirth, and disease.  (She later traveled to a medical museum in Vienna to photograph a near-identical set of Italian models that were differentiated only by their paler skin and hair coloration.)  At first, Marcuse planned to photograph the life-size models in a “restrained, cool, and categorical” way, but their startling presence and the evocative historical settings suggested a different approach. As she explained it, “I came to see the medium of photography as an analogue to Enlightenment concepts of seeing and understanding the world.  Both have the look of truth, with a stranger fiction not far beneath the surface.”

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