Photographing Devonian Fossils

     It was with great good fortune that I landed where I did in the woods near Catskill, N.Y. Originally my little cabin was the perfect antidote to life and work in Manhattan. A few days there, a few days here seemed to make the madness of city life just a bit more bearable. As often happens, the lure of country life became stronger and stronger. Where I had once spent my time aiming my camera at the urban and industrial landscape I was finding the pull of nature hard to resist. And, little by little, that process began to alter just about everything for me – changes in attitude, perspective, breathing, etc., etc.! Not an uncommon experience.

The hills throughout this region are filled with NYC expatriates, some happy with the change, others endlessly searching for a good bagel or slice of pizza. As for me, a singular moment of clarity five years ago changed me (and my pursuits) completely. It was the day I discovered my first local fossil. Smaller than a thumbnail, it was a tiny yet beautifully formed brachiopod embedded in a fist sized rock. At the time, of course, I had no idea what a brachiopod was. I showed it to my neighbor who looked at it and chuckled “They’re in every rock around here and I’m tripping over them all the time.”

He was right. The more I looked the more I found. As a photographer I recognized the onset of a new project. Little did I know at the time that this project would continue to capture my attention and creative energy five years later – with no real end in sight. It has opened my eyes to the natural world in a most unique way. Aside from the aforementioned natural beauty, the crisp symmetries, and the abundance of these Devonian Period fossils, researching the subject has exposed me to the worlds of geology and paleontology. Searching for them has me hiking throughout the local landscape, experiencing it much as earlier artists did two centuries ago. And photographing what I find proves to be immensely rewarding personally. These former occupants of what is now the Hudson Valley tell of a distant past (380 million years ago) and seem more than anything else to help provide perspective for me. While we struggle with the problems of climate change and other such potential catastrophes many of these fossils survived and thrived for millions and millions of years.

While I work primarily with these New York fossils (Devonian Period marine invertebrates) I still manage to photograph numerous other subjects. Hopefully, over time I will display and discuss that work as well. But for now fossils are the current topic. I am busy preparing for a number of shows in the near future. One caveat – I am a photographer, not a scientist. While I do make efforts to learn and understand the science end of it all I remain a very early stage student, but one who is interested and anxious to learn. So, to any readers with greater familiarity or “science chops” your thoughts and comments are always most welcome. My attempts photographically and aesthetically are to shine a warm and inviting light on these fossils with the hope that you can share those pleasures with me and encourage all of you to take the time to look a little closer at the world around you. After all, I found these fossils right out my back door. See what’s outside yours.

For the past week I have been chipping away at a rather large rock in a dry streambed down the road. Each new crack of the chisel seems to provide new treasure. Here are a few examples . More to follow soon.

Art Murphy


3 thoughts on “Photographing Devonian Fossils

  1. Pingback: A Very Giving Devonian Sandstone | artandfossils

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