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Dinornis Elephantopus
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Roger Fenton
British, London, about 1855
Salt print
15 x 11 15/16 in.
84.XP.452.3

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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.