Extinction – a photographic exploration by Marc Schlossman

Through photographs and stories, Extinction is an attempt to understand the factors threatening numerous species with extinction. Over ten years I photographed specimens of extinct and endangered species found in the zoology and botany collections of The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, some of the world’s greatest, to explore man’s relationship with life on Earth.

Extinction - Marc Schlossman

photo © Martin Evening

I started Extinction because I wanted to say something about what is happening in an age in which human activity dominates the environment on an unprecedented scale. We are now stewards of all other species and we abuse the responsibility. Our actions contribute to the accelerating loss of biodiversity. Man’s ability to extract raw materials and produce consumer goods, many of which biodegrade very slowly, is harming the biosphere. Science advances at a faster rate than ever before. We prize our technological capabilities, including a belief that somehow our tools will solve any problem, but current technology cannot address the fact that our understanding of the consequences of our actions within complex ecosystems is less than our knowledge of an ecosystem’s individual components.

The Field Museum exhibits less than one percent of its specimens, a fact that points to the purposes collections have beyond the public displays. Collections are crucial for conservation, education and research. Type specimens are used to describe and name every known species by comparing these types to other specimens. Historical collections provide a baseline to compare to modern observations. Researchers ask questions and the answers lead to the discovery of new species, unlocking the information in specimens already collected. John Bates, a birds curator and my first ally at the museum, points out that future questions about life on Earth and how it evolved will be answered using tools we have not yet invented.

The list of species I photographed is not exhaustive. I simply wanted it to be large enough to provide an overview of biodiversity loss. Any species page on the website is the start of a path chosen by the viewer, building a cumulative picture of the extinction process that highlights the importance of conservation.

A species gone forever can now only be seen in natural history collections and for that access, I am incredibly grateful to the staff of The Field Museum. Everyone I met in the museum over the last decade has contributed to my work in some way. Collection managers introduced me to colleagues, visiting researchers and volunteers. So many ideas for the project and species for the list came out of these discussions. They love the museum, they love their work and their enthusiasm and generosity are a huge part of a project they made possible and vital.

For more on reproduction rights for the images, please visit panos.co.uk