Growing up in a major suburb of Houston, my encounters with the natural world were limited to museums, visual media, and the fields behind my house. The natural spaces depicted by museums and visual media were untouched and grand. In comparison, my local landscape of post oak trees and low prairie lands was seen as lesser, and therefore prime real estate for rampant development. This contrast in how we treat and represent our land led me to question why that might be, and also to question my own understanding of the natural world as I learned it through museums. Although natural history museums and national and state parks contain scientific displays, they are not necessarily objective.
My work examines the various ways the natural world is constructed and displayed. Nature has been replaced with a new nature that is meticulously designed. In nature, what is developed or preserved, highlighted or hidden, is all decided by cultural understandings of what nature is. My photographs deconstruct this understanding by highlighting artifice and the frame in which landscapes are viewed. In looking at larger preserved spaces like parks, and comparing them with artificial spaces, like dioramas and other displays, the constructed qualities of both become apparent. Photographs of displays stand in for actual, natural spaces, and actual, natural spaces stand in for displays. The ambiguity created by photographing spaces like this invites questions about the truths associated with these landscapes, and photography as a medium.
Austin Cullen is a photographer and printmaker from Houston, Texas. He received his BFA from Stephen F. Austin State University in 2019, and is currently in his third year of graduate studies at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. His current project explores natural display and the natural world, and how they influence and affect one another.