Today I was honored to be able to photograph a family taxidermy business. The owner has been working in the business for 40 years, and his son has been working in the shop for as long as he can remember. The walls of the taxidermy building are embroidered with memories, stuffed with little trinkets, stitched together with a unified past, and a family future.
I grew up in Africa, where hunting was a way of life, my father often went off on men’s hunting trips to the bush, coming back with hunks of buffalo, kudu, impala, and more. We had an eland head mounted on the wall for several years, and impala, and kudu-skin rugs. I hand stitched myself a knife sheath from an impala tail, and grew up butchering our own stock for meat (I can make a mean sausage!).
I really wanted to do this shoot, not just because i think the photographs will be great, and because I respect men and women who work with their hands, and have skills that have been forgotten by the newer generations, but also because I have always wanted to watch a taxidermist work. Although I did not get to see the whole process today, I did get to see the fine art of skinning, slowly peeling back the skin from the sinew, flesh and bone. I remember visiting a taxidermist shop when I was a child, and it had this horrendous smell – I was expecting similar at the taxidermist today, but actually it smelled like a butchery, the slightly metallic heavy scent of flesh, and a sort of fuzzy smell of wet fur.
Anything to do with hunting animals automatically draws criticism, crazies, and controversy but, whether you agree with hunting or not, this family makes their livelihood with a skill that is dying out. Watching the two work to me was fascinating; quick but sure and careful knife cuts whittling the skin away from the skull, the care and attention needed not to nick the skin, removing tiny scraps of flesh, slicing sinew away from the nooks and crannies of bone.
I can’t wait to get editing this set properly and find the one for my man. series.