071218: Back to the Library

Once again I’ve been diving into my library of images from my shooting at the various divisions of the Florence Museum of Natural History. Today’s images are some of the more interesting and odder outtakes from a variety of its collections – Mammals, Reptiles, Entomology, Echinoderms, Paleontology, and Botanica.

So, from whale bones and reptiles to butterflies and fossils (and much in between):













These last two images need a bit of explanation. Gorgonocephalus agassizi, otherwise known as underwater “basket stars,” remind me of Medusa, the Greek mythological monster with snakes instead of hair. Interesting enough, as the image above shows. The second basket star (below), found off Cape Cod in 1888, seemed to call out for a different treatment.

There are some Photoshop “tricks” that can easily become rather “gimmicky” and wise to avoid using. But sometimes a particular image just lends itself to the gimmick. And, used carefully and judiciously, it can provide some very interesting results. In this case, the horizontal flop gave me something natural as well as unnatural, an eye-catching symmetry from meandering randomness! More on this “trick” next week.

Thanks for the visit.

012518: A Bit of Color

We all deal in different ways with the cold, gray winter days that the season often provides. Some sit under heat lamps to mimic the otherwise missing rays of the sun. Some seek out professional help to combat S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder). Some simply sleep until Spring (like the bear that lives in the woods behind my studio!).

On the other hand, I try to engage color – the brighter and bolder the better! And this week I found it in butterflies. Today’s images come from a couple of sessions I had at La Specola, a division of the Natural History Museum of Florence. Again, like last week’s post, revisiting that photo library gave me new, previously overlooked, opportunities for exploration.

I don’t know if there is cause and effect at work here. I must say that the colors not only brightened my day but the sky just cleared this morning, the sun is shining, and the snow has gone away!

Neat trick if that’s all that is involved! I hope these images brighten your day.











Thanks for the visit.

021617: Overlooked


Today’s images come from shooting I did at the Museum of Natural History in Florence. These particular images were originally passed over when I chose my “selects” from this project. This month’s snow and cold allowed me to revisit my photo libraries and “discover” these previously untouched images.


I normally try to avoid the cliche of “pretty flower” images, but these are very different. They are wax botanical models – wax sculptures, if you will – made during the 18th and 19th Centuries at the waxworks of the Imperial & Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History.


They currently reside in the collection of the Florence Museum of Natural History in the Botany Section and overseen by the section head, Dr. Chiara Nepi.


Regular viewers might recall the images I posted this time last year of the collection of fantastical fungi (0310: A Curious Cabinet). Those mushroom sculptures came from that same Botany Section.


Also, within that section resides an amazing collection of seeds and plant specimens, each of which is more visually stimulating than the other. Below are more samples.










My deepest thanks to Dr. Nepi for allowing me the opportunity to explore the objects under her care. She has always been so kind and gracious with her time in allowing me to enter her world.  I am always most grateful.



I’ll finish today with a handful of images from La Specola, another section of the Florence Museum – this time from their Mineralogy collection. I know a bit about fossils and their rock matrices but almost nothing about gems and minerals. I do know, though, that they can be pretty mind blowing and quite something to see!

I hope you agree,








My thanks again to all those kind, thoughtful, and wonderful folks at the Museum whose kindness I could never repay!

And thanks to you for the visit today.

011217: Thin Ice


Before I get to the ice let me remind you of the opening of “Fresh,” an interesting show that I will be a part of. It opens this Saturday (the 14th) at the GCCA Gallery on Main Street in Catskill (5-7pm).Today’s opening image is one of four prints, all part of my “Galileo” series, that will be displayed in the show. All the work shown by all the artists involved has been created since October, thus the name “Fresh.” Please join us if you are in the area. The show will run through February 25.



And now Thin Ice


Last week, on one of the colder days of the year so far, I accompanied my friend, the enormously talented photographer Moshe Katvan on a hunt for rocks – not just any rocks, mind you, but just the right ones necessary for an upcoming shoot of his.


So I took him to a few of my favorite spots to find some variety, one of which is a small dry creek bed that has interesting rocks and some extraordinary fossils.


This particular day it also had pockets of ice where water pooled following the last rain.


In many cases, the ice was paper thin…


…with great details…


…and some wonderful shapes.


Just another example of the wonders of nature…


…and the beauty of it all!




I decided to round out this post with four images from last year’s work I did at La Specola, the Natural History Museum of Florence. I was thinking of delicacy, following the “ice” images, and was drawn to these particular images taken in the Entomology, Enichoderms, and Ornithology Sections.


These proved to be fun to work on and they allowed for experimenting with some new techniques. What a joy it was to have been given such an opportunity.


For those interested, from top to bottom – moth, heliaster, bird eggs, butterflies.


Come say hello on Saturday at GCCA Gallery.

Thanks for the visit.

0421: Anecdotes and Anthropomorphism


Today’s title comes from a fascinating article in the latest issue of Atlantic Magazine. Entitled “How Animals Think,” the article refers to the work of primatologist Frans de Waal who makes “… a passionate and convincing case for the sophistication of nonhuman minds.” Like many of you, I grew up being taught that the non-human version of thinking was “instinct” and nothing more. And, despite the various anecdotes of animal behavior suggesting otherwise, and despite being told that it was our need sometimes to imagine human traits in animals, there was no truth to any of it.


Rather, thanks to advances in technology and scientific research, we are beginning to see that “As de Waal recognizes, a better way to think about other creatures would be to ask ourselves how different species have developed different kinds of minds to solve different adaptive problems.”


In fact, in many cases those particular kinds of minds can be quite astounding. Last Sunday’s NY Times ran an article entitled “A Conversation With Whales,” in which the following statement is made:

Sperm whales’ brains are the largest ever known, around six times the size of humans’. They have an oversize neocortex and a profusion of highly developed neurons called spindle cells that, in humans, govern things like emotional suffering, compassion and speech.


Times have changed. Most phones these days have video capability, Youtube and Facebook now exist and abound with examples of animal behavior that previously had rarely been seen (those anecdotes that that had been so easily dismissed in the past).


Whether it be a chimp hugging Jane Goodall goodbye or the mourning rituals of elephants, these and many other examples are helping us to evolve to a greater understanding of the world around us and, perhaps, our own place within it.


So I had  a mix of emotions when I took these images recently in the back rooms of La Specola, the noted natural history museum in Florence, Italy. It was simultaneously compelling and repelling. While this taxidermy in the pursuit of science and research served its purpose in the past I assume that more enlightened minds now see that such practices are no longer appropriate.


And, after having spent many Sunday afternoons visiting the Bronx Zoo as a kid, I can hardly approve of the caged displays of animals anymore.


Despite this long history of misunderstanding, attitudes are changing. Animal sentience has been codified into law in New Zealand and France recently. In August of 2012 an international group of prominent scientists (including Dr. Stephen Hawking) signed “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” declaring animal sentience as real.


It is certainly something worth considering.




Let me make a switch now to perhaps the other end of the “consciousness” spectrum – lichen! Not a lot of brain activity around here.  But an interesting organism nonetheless.







Thanks for the visit.

0414: Birds


Shortly after returning from our recent trip both Cindy and I each found these two interesting objects – bird skulls. Not an everyday occurrence for sure but it seemed appropriate after having just spent so much time in the Ornithology Department of La Specola in Florence.




What immediately came to mind as I was setting up this last one was the pterodactyl (below) that I photographed in the Fossil Department. Certainly birdlike but apparently there is much discussion as to just how “birdlike” or how “reptile-like” it actually is. From what I was able to discern, the pterodactyl was a “flying reptile.” Its all a bit confusing to me. All I know for sure is that the images all work well with each other.


And so this week’s selection is quite literally for the birds!






















One final note – Today I’d like to take a moment to wish a most warm and happy birthday to Cindy, the love of my life.

Happy Birthday my dear Cindy!!!

0324: A Spring Break


Another walk starts off this week’s post. It was an overcast early Spring afternoon that got me up and away from the computer – a break from all the Florence images that have had me tied up lately. A need for nature not pixels! The lichen was a good start.


The garden showed me some things new…


…and some things old.


Some shapes reminded me of other shapes.

Some images reminded me of other images.


And that brought me back to the computer – which led to this mix.


Crustacean 1, La Specola


Crustacean 2, La Specola


Stairwell, Bardini Gardens


Tools of Mosaic Artist


Jupiter and Saturn, Orrery, Galileo Museum


Gastropod, Florence Museum of Natural History


Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa


San Miniato al Monte, Florence


Virgin with Child and Bicycles, Florence


Vasari’s Vision of Hell, Duomo, Florence


Thanks for the visit.

0303: Museum Mix


With the bags just unpacked and the many, many image files uploaded, I have put together a sampler, of sorts, from the wide variety of objects  I photographed at the Florence Museum of Natural History this past month. It was an honor and privilege to be allowed in and one for which I am most grateful.


Storage rooms in any museum tend to have real visual allure, places where odd juxtapositions often exist behind every door. This museum’s wealth and breadth allowed me to access, for instance, the Mammal collection one day…


…and Reptiles the next, or Ornithology, or Botany, etc.


Wonderful things to see : the texture and patterns of the chameleons and the ancient gastropods.




From the very small, in this case, a mantis (I believe)…


… to the very large – skull and bones of a whale.












From the Botany Section: models of mushrooms, made of paper mache and resins, from a collection from the 1800s.


And , last for today, from the Entomology collection, one of their many stunning butterflies.


More to come.

Thanks for the visit.

1205: The Florence Museum of Natural History


Since my return from Italy I have displayed a few images taken at two sections of the Florence Museum of Natural History. I have now assembled a selection of images from the Botanical Museum, La Specola (The Zoology Section), as well as images from my show at the Geology and Paleontology Section. All can be found above in the Menu bar and will reside there indefinitely.



These first five, all from La Specola, attempt to show some of the museum’s diversity. Popularly known for its collection of wax anatomical models (which are mind-blowing, without a doubt!), the zoological collections that fill out the bulk of the museum are equally stunning.









These five images are from the Botanical Museum, parts of which date back to the 1500s. It is the largest in Italy and one of the finest in the world. It is home to several herbaria, as well as many other related collections including one of botanical wax models of flowers and plants. I can only assume that, during the heyday of “wax” artists, museums were big employers.











And along with those two sections, of course, is a selection from the Geology and Paleontology Section, all of which appeared in my September show. The show was divided into two rooms, The downstairs room (Sala Strozzi, named after a member of the Strozzi Family, one of the great rivals to the Medicis) is shown above. The effective lighting and clever panel design allowed the photographs to float in a room walled by old cabinets full of fossils.



Part Two of the exhibit, set in an upstairs room never before opened to the public, showed my New York fossil images set against wonderful old glass cases full of invertebrate fossils.


All in all, it was a most memorable experience.



I have given talks in a number of various locations but never in one as great as this!



And here are the two people responsible for all these most memorable experiences – my dear friends Dr. Elisabetta Cioppi and Dr. Stefano Dominici. Their deep understanding of the connections between art and science and their points of confluence are what enabled this exhibit to occur. And their desire to share these ideas with the greater public made the show a complete success. Their hospitality was boundless – as boundless as our affection for them.


Thanks for visiting.

More images at www.artmurphy.com

Subscribe at my homepage artandfossils.wordpress.com

1024: Halloween to da Vinci


At the end of a long corridor at La Specola, at the entrance to rooms full of anatomical waxworks, this skeleton greets all visitors. An appropriate image, I thought, with Halloween just around the corner. La Specola, one of six sections that cumulatively comprise the Florence Museum of Natural History, is world famous for the waxworks and, while immensely fascinating, is not for the squeamish!




But it turns out that La Specola is so much more. It deals with the broader subject of Zoology. Opened in 1775, it is the oldest scientific museum in Europe. I’ll have much more in future posts.





The Botany Section, in which I was also allowed to photograph, is another wonder to behold. Not only does it contain an herbaria containing more than 225,000 dried plant specimens, it also houses endless cabinetry filled with plant seeds and samples in glass-stoppered bottles and vials. Here are a couple of examples:






“Oculistico”, one of many street scenes I focused on, seems to have an undercurrent – and not an entirely pleasant one at that. What makes it so? Maybe it’s the sunglasses.



Two more street scenes from Rome. Ancient buildings in the heart of the city – one with Roman artifacts strewn about all around it – and the other with motorbike parked out front.





And here are two more from my Street Shrines series – in this case both from Rome.





During our trip Cindy and I were constantly amazed and gratified by the treatment we received. Everyone we met was so very willing to extend themselves and help insure a memorable experience for both of us. One example was a wonderful day in the Tuscan countryside with Dr. Elisabetta Cioppi and Dr. Stefano Dominici, the two people to whom I owe such a huge debt of gratitude. It was they who were responsible for my exhibition. We managed to visit two fossil sites, the first of which was across the vineyard seen above. The cut in the distance, and the dirt road leading to it looked like this:


I’ve never seen such density – fossils crackling underfoot like walking on popcorn! A hillside full of these Pliocene fossils (app. 3 million years old).




I managed to bring a small bagful home to my studio where I have had some time to explore. These are a few of the resulting images.






And finally, during that day in the countryside, Elisabetta took us to the little town of Vinci (as in Leonardo da ___). We toured the da Vinci Museum and then visited his birthplace. Turns out that in his youth he became familiar with these same fossils, part of his insatiable curiosity that eventually led to his greater understanding of geology and earth processes.



My recent fascination with “character-laden” trees did not abate while in Italy. There was a great deal to choose from, especially this one special tree that resides in the courtyard of da Vinci’s birthplace.


Thanks for visiting.

More images at www.artmurphy.com

Subscribe at my homepage artandfossils.wordpress.com