Art Exhibit Review: "Portraits of Planet Ocean" at the Natural History Museum
BY maddie weyand-geise
To quote a well-loved movie about a clownfish searching for his son, Portraits of Planet Ocean at the Natural History Museum was both “big and blue.” But despite the small children screaming “Nemo!” every few minutes, Brian Skerry’s photography was far more profound than an animated film. Skerry is an established photographer for National Geographic who has used the digital medium to forward issues regarding wildlife protection. Portraits of Planet Ocean followed this agenda. Scattered beneath the undulating blue lights and cerulean background were statements concerning the degradation of marine communities. I may have only glimpsed over the descriptions, but I was innately drawn to the vibrant sea-life spread across the hall.
These works typically featured single subjects in the midst of aquatic life – a Harper seal staring pitifully into the camera, a whale lounging in bright blue water with a diver nearby, a sea turtle lying exhausted on a sunset-lit beach. The stunning isolation Skerry captures only serves to emphasize the growing vulnerability of the sea. While his photography shows a fraction of marine wildlife, Skerry makes human negligence a major part of the exhibit. Perhaps that is why anthropogenic life is missing from these photos. By eliminating humanity’s ugliness, Skerry elevates the beauty and mystery of his subjects.
On one occasion Skerry depicts a shark entangled within a fishing net, a prime example of how human interference within nature is often negative. Stunning, innocent creatures often suffer as a result of human activity. Pollution and other anthropogenic additives have taken a toll on the oceans, slowly destroying the irreplaceable ecosystem. The exhibit subtly condemns humans’ disrespect for the environment by focusing on a range of magnificent creatures, and by exposing oceanic world, Skerry shocks audiences with both splendor and horror.
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