June 20, 2008

Wildlife photography: Is it art?

Posted by: Julia Swan

The Burke loves wildlife photographers. We love them so much, in fact, that we frequently dedicate our temporary exhibit spaces to their work. In the past few years we’ve shown the work of Subhankar Banerjee, Florian Schulz, Keith Lazelle and the Wildlife Photographers of the Year. Next week, we premiere an exhibit featuring the work of Steven Kazlowski, who photographs polar bears in the Arctic. Later this year, we open Arctic Wings and Irreplaceable, which both use wildlife photography to look at the critical issue of climate change.
Photography is a form of art. It is traditionally displayed in museums as artwork, and is often celebrated for its aesthetic qualities. However, photography is a rich medium and has the power to deliver not only aesthetic satisfaction, but content. Photography captures real moments in time and preserves them. When photographs are placed in a museum, they have the ability to transport a visitor to a different time or place.

The Burke Museum is not an art museum, yet we constantly display works of art. From cultural artifacts to stunning wildlife photography, we take art work and place it in an entirely different context. Our exhibits are typically driven by content and message, and place less emphasis on pure aestheticism, yet I really believe that much of the work we bring into this museum of natural history and culture is just as beautiful and aesthetically engaging as the classic Impressionist paintings currently on view at the Seattle Art Museum.

So I urge visitors to the Burke Museum to take in the messages of conservation and environmental awareness that we promote through exhibits like The Last Polar Bear, but to also consider the brilliant, vibrant wildlife photographs that adorn our gallery walls as objects of art, worthy of recognition as much for their artistry as for their powerful message.
- Julia
Photo left: An artistic shot of a beech tree by Luca Fantoni & Danilo Porta. Featured in Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Burke in 2006.
Photo right: Two visitors enjoy the beautiful photography of Florian Schulz in Yellowstone to Yukon in 2007.