New photography exhibition exploring “life, its transience, its fragility, and its persistence” opens at the ROM on March 31

In their first-ever collaboration, the ROM’s Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity and its Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) present ELEGY: DEBORAH SAMUEL, an exhibition featuring a new series of images from Canadian photo-based artist Deborah Samuel. Making its world premiere at the ROM, the exhibition opens on Saturday, March 31, 2012, and will be displayed in the Museum’s Hilary and Galen Weston Wing, Level 2, until Monday, July 2, 2012. ELEGY is also a featured exhibition at this year’s Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

The exhibition includes 33 photographs, including 10 commissioned by the ROM highlighting specimens from its collections. ROM curatorial staff has contributed to the enlightening captions accompanying the photographs. Samuel’s initial focus in this project was birds - well represented in the exhibition. However, her scope broadened to include other vertebrates’ remains, including a lizard, soft-shelled turtle, fish, anteater, wolverine, and, notably, a cobra highlighted in a triptych.

Deborah Samuel says, “ELEGY is about life - its transience, its fragility, and its persistence. It’s also about these same qualities in photography. The tender gestures of skeletal fingers and toes, so miniscule, offer a glimpse of the delicate boundary between life and death. With these innocent bones we are free to speculate on our own mortality, without fear, but, instead, with appropriate curiosity and reverence. I’m happy to premiere this collection at the ROM in conjunction with its Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity and Institute for Contemporary Culture.”

"Bridging the gap between art and science is an important step towards engaging a broader, more diverse audience," states Dave Ireland, the ROM’s Managing Director, Biodiversity Programs. "This partnership with Deborah’s ELEGY exhibit can only improve our audiences' awareness of natural history and the state of our planet’s biodiversity."

Francisco Alvarez, Managing Director, ICC, elaborates, "The ICC is pleased to co-produce this exhibition, the first ICC show in recent history that addresses the natural world. Nature is a critical aspect of contemporary culture and one half of the ROM's mandate. Looking ahead to 2013, nature, the environment and climate change will be key themes examined in ICC exhibitions."

In ELEGY, Deborah Samuel’s focus is the aspect of the animal anatomy most impervious to the ravages of time - the shells and skeletal systems lending shape to otherwise amorphous biological mass. As the display’s poetic photographs illustrate, the rigid bones of a creature continue to suggestively animate its vanished outer form long after flesh and spirit are gone. The exhibition provides a reflective meditation on the life/death divide, at the same time as the specimens tell stories that transcend basic scientific documentation.

ELEGY is a project borne out of personal losses for Deborah Samuel, as well as her anger at the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Horrified by the environmental disaster, Samuel tried to go to Louisiana to photograph and document the thousands of affected, oiled birds, but was prohibited from doing so by both government and BP regulations. Her intention, instead, to work with bird skeletons soon evolved into a great fascination with anatomy for Samuel. Being a strong long-time animal advocate, Samuel began to ponder many aspects of the animal world – their interpersonal relationships; what disturbed them; the methods by which they stayed together; how they looked after one other. Far beyond their physical attributes, their emotions and their relationships held great interest for the photographer.

The images in ELEGY are captured by placing physical specimens on a flatbed scanner, a method allowing Samuel to work with the image to achieve her desired representation. This innovative technique highlights the issue of fixed image versus a fluid image in photography, a debate which Samuel fully embraces.

ELEGY: DEBORAH SAMUEL is included with paid general ROM admission, now at new lower prices.Visit https://www.rom.on.ca/visit/ for details.


Interesting and provocative programming will take place throughout ELEGY’s ROM engagement, including a free illustrated talk with Deborah Samuel occurring in the ROM’s Signy & Cléophée Eaton Theatre on April 12.

Throughout the exhibition’s engagement, take the opportunity to experience the newly launched ELEGY Tour on SCVNGR, an entertaining game played on your mobile device during a ROM visit. Searching for hidden treasures earns points, unlocks badges and garners rewards towards prizes. More information on this exciting new initiative may be found at https://www.rom.on.ca/scvngrAdditionally, students of the newly launched Environmental Communications Program (EVC), a partnership between the ROM and Fleming College, will have the opportunity to learn from Deborah Samuel during a meet-and-greet at the ROM. Additional details on these and other programs will be announced soon at www.rom.on.ca/icc

ELEGY: DEBORAH SAMUEL is a featured exhibition of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival 2012. The internationally renowned festival takes place in Toronto during the month of May at various locations in the Greater Toronto Area.

Artist Deborah Samuel

Born in Vancouver and raised between Toronto, and Adare, Ireland, Deborah Samuel graduated from Limerick College of Art & Design, Ireland and, then, Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. Her photographs reside in many public, corporate, and private collections and her work has been widely exhibited internationally. After working extensively as a commercial artist and winning numerous awards, Samuel now focuses exclusively on fine art projects. Deborah Samuel has had a number of books of her photography published by Chronicle Books.

The Institute for Contemporary Culture

The mission of the Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) at the Royal Ontario Museum is to stimulate diverse audiences to think creatively, understand and change the world. Inspired by the mission and collections of the ROM, the ICC examines living societies and the natural world, linking the present to the past through innovative exhibitions, special events and the creation of dynamic original content using new technologies. For more information: www.rom.on.ca/icc

Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity

The ROM’s mission includes advocating for science in the study of nature, and the Schad Gallery offers a unique platform to engage diverse audiences in the fundamental relationships between nature and humanity. Hands-on interactives, spectacular specimens, a live coral reef, and compelling videos make the gallery a unique experience for visitors of all ages. Through the Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity, the ROM is committed to raising awareness of the significant challenges facing the conservation, diversity and survival of life on earth and working with its partners and the public to find ways in which to make a difference. For more information: www.rom.on.ca/nature

Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival

CONTACT is an annual festival of photography in Toronto, during the month of May, with over 1500 local, national and international artists exhibiting at more than 175venues. Founded as a not-for-profit organization in 1997 and granted charitable status in 2011, the festival is devoted to celebrating, and fostering the art and profession of photography. It stimulates excitement and discussion among a diverse audience that has grown to over 1.8 million. CONTACT is the largest photography event in the world, and a premier cultural event in Canada. For more information: http://scotiabankcontactphoto.com/

ELEGY: DEBORAH SAMUEL is co-presented by the Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity and the Institute for Contemporary Culture at the ROM







CONTACT is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, Celebrate Ontario and the Ontario Arts Council.