Magazine article Natural History

Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record

Magazine article Natural History

Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record

Article excerpt

Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record by Errol Fuller Princeton University Press, 2014; 256 pages; $29.95

Opening Errol Fuller's gallery of extinct species is an exercise in biological nostalgia. Here we see images of species that, like an album of family portraits, documents those that passed on before our time, some known by name and others not. Through the medium of photography, we get glimpses, often indistinct, of lives that succumbed to various human interventions in the environment. Yet the unfamiliar creatures in these pictures evoke a strange recognition, partly because they are cousins of animals still alive and partly because of the implicit subtext of each portrait. These are the last of their kind to sit before a camera, and we share with them the kinship of mortality.

Fuller, an artist and nature writer, has written and illustrated books on the dodo, the great auk, and extinct birds in general, so it's not surprising that birds occupy most of these photographs. Foremost among them is a classic candid of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, whose species once constituted four out of every ten birds in the United States. There is one of Doodles, a Carolina parakeet, the only species of parrot indigenous to the United States. There's an intimate series depicting New Zealand bush wrens, which, like so many island avians, succumbed to the predation of invasive mammals, disappearing from the wild in the early 1970s. …

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