In February of 2008, a fire destroyed the famous Parisian taxidermy shop Deyrolle, which had been founded more than one hundred and fifty years before. A cabinet of natural curiosities, the shop had been home to many priceless specimens from butterflies to polar bears. As the shop’s friends and neighbors worked to raise money through auctions, donations, and even the sale of a limited edition scarf by Hermès, photographer Martin d’Orgeval documented this unique moment in Deyrolle’s history.
These large-scale photographs show the shop in the aftermath of the fire — the walls, floors and furniture are charred and damaged almost beyond recognition. However, natural sunlight filters through the wreckage, emphasizing the beauty of decay. In a striking juxtaposition, some of the animals stand unscathed among the rubble. The effect is one of a type of unreality, a theme that encompasses the practice of taxidermy and of preservation itself.
With his work, d’Orgeval explores and redefines questions of nature, habitat, and temporality. As the artist writes, “That which Man and science had taken from the natural cycle of life and death and fixed forever for our wide-eyed pleasure was partially brought back to its original destiny: the fading and disappearance that awaits any creature. Time had been made to stand still, and Nature had reclaimed its rights.”
d’Orgeval’s pieces are filled with colors, shapes, and textures and are almost painterly in form and composition, a quality that underscores the mutability of their subjects. Their large scale invites the viewer to linger and take in the details of the photographs. While the story of Deyrolle is a compelling one, it is transcended by d’Orgeval’s photographs, which, like the animals they depict, take on a life of their own in the new context of the gallery, moving from documentary to art.
Martin d'Orgeval lives and works in Paris and has exhibited all over Europe, including Rome, Naples and Berlin. In France, he has exhibited at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. His work has been featured in Le Monde, Le Figaro, The New York Times and many other publications. A book of d’Orgeval’s photographs of Deyrolle, Touched By Fire, will be published by Steidl in 2009.