Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sometimes it takes two years to make a picture

Judy, Curatorial Associate, Mammalogy, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, 2010

I first met Judy two years ago.  As part of my museum studies program, I took a class called "Collections and Curation," which was taught by the Curator of Minerals at the Harvard Mineralogical Museum, Carl Francis.  As part of this class, we took a behind-the-scenes tour of the collections storage at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, where Judy works as, essentially, the keeper of the mammals.  Her title is much more formal, of course, but I came to learn that she has worked in the mammal department for the past 21 years and is clearly an integral part of the department.  She had set up all of these animals for our class to see, and she was standing behind a bench full of hides and skeletons, talking about her job and her interest in mammals.  She told wild stories of seeing a moose on the side of the road and making an impromptu decision to pull over, skin it, and load as much of it as possible into the back of her pickup truck, both to keep for the museum and to eat.  She explained all about how the museum gets new specimens, what she does with them once they arrive, and the kind of research that they're used for.  At one point, she held up a bat for us to see, one hand on either wing, stretching it out in front of our class before returning it to its little jar for safe keeping.

I was immediately taken with her.  Here was this incredible woman, so passionate and knowledgeable about mammals- I instantly wanted to photograph her.  I approached her after class and explained that I'm a photographer and asked to take her picture.  She was very nice and took my business card, but for one reason or another, we never got in touch after that.

Fast forward one year, by which point I had finished the museum studies program and was hired by the same curator mentioned above, Carl Francis, to photograph his collection of minerals, which placed me in the same building as Judy.  Long story short, I got to know her since I now worked in the same museum complex that she did, and after many, many months and multiple attempts to make a photo appointment, we finally got together last month and made the picture that has been on my mind since I met her that first day, over two years ago.

It turns out that Judy is an even cooler woman than I knew back then, and we have plans to take another photo of her with her horse, Seeya.  Sometimes, people and moments just stick in your mind, and you can't rest until you've captured them on film.  Even if it takes two years.


  1. Very nice triptych! I keep thinking I should start a series on the HMNH some time, since I work so close by in the NorthWest Sciences Lab, and am technically affiliated with HMNH via the OEB department.

  2. Thanks Steven! It's definitely a cool place. I have taken a few triptychs there in addition to this one. One is of the curator of minerals and another is of a volunteer in the mineral gallery. It's such a quirky set of museums!