To illustrate the cover of the November/December 2012 issue of Orion, our editors selected Kristen Zellmer’s photograph “Mandala with Bones, Teeth, and Quail Egg.” Here’s Kristen on the conception and construction of her remarkable image.
This image is from a series called A Still Life, honoring the simple beauty found in nature. By creating these vanitas—often using bones, wilting plants, and dead animals—I was trying to represent the new life given to the remains of discarded creatures.
These made-up formations act as fake anatomical diagrams, referencing the cabinets of curiosities that were used as physical encyclopedias during the Renaissance—and which exhibited rare and occasionally fabricated natural specimens, among much else. Many of these still life constructions are also loosely based on plant growth structures and other patterns found in nature. By using items that are often thought of as taboo, I try to show the beauty that can be found in death.