The J. Paul Getty Museum

[Dinornis Elephantopus]

Object Details


[Dinornis Elephantopus]


Roger Fenton (English, 1819 - 1869)






Salted paper print

Object Number:



38.1 × 30.3 cm (15 × 11 15/16 in.)

See more

See less

Object Description

In 1854, the British Museum embarked on an experiment to test photography's potential for recording art and artifacts. At an earlier time, historical and scientific specimens were recorded in the form of drawings or engravings. But the new medium of photography offered greater accuracy and efficiency, and the museum hired Roger Fenton.

During Fenton's seven-and-a-half years photographing for the museum, this extinct creature's skeleton was probably his most unusual subject. Photography reveals the skeleton's scaffold support of thin wires, its many vertebrae, and its strange proportions-from a tiny head and long neck, to wide hips and giant talons.

Fenton set up a studio within the museum and became very innovative at arranging and lighting his subjects. He developed methods that are still used by commercial photographers today. Against an interior brick wall, he hung white sheets to form a backdrop so that he could more clearly emphasize the subject's physical structure. Skylight windows probably lit this particular specimen, but Fenton also relocated art objects onto the museum's rooftop to record them in direct sunlight for greater clarity.


Samuel Wagstaff, Jr., American, 1921 - 1987, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1984.

Photographs from the Sam Wagstaff Collection (November 15, 1985 to January 11, 1986)
  • The Photographers' Gallery (London), November 15, 1985 to January 11, 1986
Photographers of Genius (March 16 to July 25, 2004)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), March 16 to July 25, 2004
All the Mighty World: The Photographs of Roger Fenton, 1852-1860 (October 17, 2004 to January 2, 2006)
  • National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), October 17, 2004 to January 2, 2005
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), February 1 to April 24, 2005
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), May 24 to August 21, 2005
  • Tate Britain (London), September 21, 2005 to January 2, 2006
The Thrill of the Chase: The Wagstaff Collection of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum (March 15, 2016 to May 7, 2017)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), March 15 to July 31, 2016
  • Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford), September 10 to December 11, 2016
  • Portland Museum of Art (Portland), February 13 to May 7, 2017

Martineau, Paul. The Thrill of the Chase: the Wagstaff collection of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2016), p. 63, pl. 15.