A Natural History (Built to be Seen) is a series of observations of the western natural world, with an emphasis on the spectacular and absurd ways it’s constructed and presented.
As someone who grew up visiting natural history museums regularly, I’ve always been fascinated by the extravagant ways museums framed the American landscape. Dramatic dioramas, interactive virtual experiences, and miniaturized landscapes all act as windows into the natural world. While this framing acts as a guide for reading and understanding nature, the same frame can be analyzed to understand the complex and ever-changing relationship between people and land.
With this in mind, I want to understand the ways that natural history museums and the American landscape affect one another. My photographs contrast and connect the interior spaces of museums with exterior spaces, like National Parks and scenic viewpoints. Cycling between these spaces blurs the lines between the two. Because of the similar ways nature is distorted and simplified for the viewer, what is artificial or natural, inside or outside, becomes indistinguishable. By relating the microcosm of natural history museums to the macrocosm of the larger American landscape, the cultural biases and at times absurd expectations of what is “natural” come to the forefront of the project.
About Austin Cullen
Austin Cullen is a photographer and printmaker from Houston, Texas. He received his BFA from Stephen F. Austin State University in 2019, and is currently in his final year of his graduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to his own studies at UNL, Austin also works as a gallery assistant in the Eisentrager Howard Gallery, and as a Graduate Instructor of Record. He first became interested in photography in high school. The first images he made were shot on film and printed in the darkroom, and this quickly sparked his interest in the medium. Soon after, Austin decided to pursue photography as a career. His current project explores museum natural displays and the natural world, and how they influence and affect one another.
Austin’s work has been included in over 30 venues including the Houston Center for Photography, Texas Women’s University Gallery, the Curated Fridge, and the Midwest Center for Photography. He has also had his work exhibited in numerous online exhibitions like Urbanautica: Ethical Shifts in Photography (2021) and Undisclosed Resource (2021). He has recently featured in online magazines like Phroom Magazine, Float Magazine, and Nowhere Magazine. [Official Website]