The work of Northwest photographer Dianne Kornberg is singularly committed to documenting the natural world, from moths and beetles to animal bones and fetuses. But looking at the nearly 100 images in the retrospective Field Notes, a viewer's attention on this consuming focus is distracted by the images' masterly composition and conceptual heft. This is, in part, a product of her interest in photographing remains and archival specimens. Rather than locate her subjects in their natural habitats, they are often depicted with a cool, clinical distance. In a recent group of photographs of marine algae, for example, various seaweeds are captured with unflinching directness: laid out on stark white paper, each plant's species and genus cataloged in a cursive scrawl. The images of her vast collection of animal bones, on the other hand, are more staged. But whether scientific or more explicitly compositional, her subjects transcend their materiality to speak to the inevitability of decay and mortality.
In Kornberg's prints, her subjects are rendered, literally, larger than life. Given that they are uniformly life-less, she suggests that what is, figuratively, larger than life is death. Her photographs, then, monumentalize mortality; like grave stones, they are unmoving markers of the transient nature of life. In one particularly affecting suite of images, she presents a series of preserved animal fetuses. Grayed from formaldehyde, a miniscule armadillo resembles a deflated Mylar balloon and a colt, stored in a circular vat, is wound into an inanimate spiral. As grotesque as it is to see these animals, with their features undeveloped and never-opened eyelids, the photographs themselves are nonetheless gorgeous and otherworldly.
Kornberg seems to approach the subject of death with a scientist's matter-of-fact resignation and the artist's inquisitiveness and compassion. In fact, as she documents the movement of a disarticulated calf skeleton in a series called "The Cartwheel Suite," she describes the bones' tumbling pattern as "a dance of death." For Kornberg, examining death is as enchanting as contemplating a riddle: Though confounding and inscrutable, it evokes as much wonder and fascination as repulsion or dread.