Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

‘The illegal trade of wildlife is one of the great disgraces of humanity’

April 27, 2018 at 6:00 AM

Lynx rufus. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Zebra bookend. (Christine Fitzgerald/)

Fine art photographer Christine Fitzgerald grew up in a small town in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. It was there, during her childhood, that she became enamored with nature. That feeling has lasted her entire life and informs much of the photographic work she does. In Fitzgerald’s work, we see an artist grappling with the relationship that people have with their natural surroundings, one that is sometimes fraught with tension. Her work has tackled subjects such as the erosion of North American coastlines and the environmental impact of raging wildfires that engulfed the western United States and Canada in 2015. Fitzgerald’s new series, “Trafficked,” examines the illegal trade of wildlife.

Fitzgerald had wanted to do a project on the illegal wildlife trade for some time. “My artwork is largely focused on nature, often with underlying themes relating to identity and the transience of life. Using a camera allows me to reflect and examine how our past is interpreted by a current reality,” she said. “Through my images, I attempt to express how the natural environment shapes who we are, and how we impact our natural environment …. Every time I see an image of a dead animal as a result of poaching, I am deeply affected …. The illegal trade of wildlife is one of the great disgraces of humanity.”

To create “Trafficked,” Fitzgerald holed up for days with the Wildlife Enforcement Branch of the Canadian government in a locked area containing cases of confiscated specimens from the illegal wildlife trade. She created all of the images using the laborious 19th century wet collodion process that involves exposing chemically treated photographic plates and then developing them in a darkroom. What resulted is a poetically compelling look at the evidence of human beings’ sometimes illegal, often abusive, relationship in wildlife trading.

Fitzgerald, speaking with In Sight, explains more about her motivation for working on “Trafficked”:

“I wanted to present the specimens in a way that was different from what people are used to seeing when they see photos on the illegal trade of wildlife. As I went through the cases of specimens at the Canadian Wildlife Enforcement Branch, I tried to imagine the backstory to each one. It would be impossible to know the layers of stories behind them. I decided to present the specimens through a series of traditional still life images, like old paintings, but viewed with contemporary eyes. Through the images, I am trying to provide a voice through the viewer’s imagination, for all those animals that were killed because of illegal trade. My intent is to raise awareness of the issue and engage viewers in a dialogue on the conservation stories — saving threatened and endangered species and protecting the biodiversity of the planet that’s what’s important.”

Bear gallbladder with Bosc pears. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Argali sheep diptych. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Ivory bracelets on tusk. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Platter of duck wings. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Tiger head. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Long tailed duck. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Coral in bowl. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Saggia antelope horns. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Rhino horn on plate. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Polar bear claw. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Crocodile claw. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Stacked turtles. (Christine Fitzgerald/)
Muntiacus deer. (Christine Fitzgerald/)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

More on In Sight:

Stanley Kubrick’s little-known life as a still photographer

An outsider’s view of New York City’s Harlem in the 1980s

The sidelines are at the center of Martin Amis’s photographs of racing in England

Kenneth Dickerman is a photo editor. He previously worked as a photo editor at MSN in Seattle and TIME in New York City. Before that, he worked as a freelance photographer specializing in politics and conflict and his work appeared in The New York Times, TIME and US News & World Report among other publications.

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