At first glance, Kimberly Witham’s photos in her Domestic Arrangements series are pleasant to look at, just like the idealized designs they’re meant to critique. They’re bright, colorful and nicely arranged. Then you see the roadkill.
“I’m trying to create images which are simultaneously seductively beautiful and completely disturbing,” says Witham, who lives in New Jersey.
A couple years back, Witham bought a 100-year-old house that needed a lot of work. Browsing through magazines like Martha Stewart Living and Dwell, she was struck by how the photos showed domestic spaces that were “so pristine and perfect.” She knew her house might never look as good. She wanted to examine the attraction to what she calls an “idealized notion of American suburbia.”
Around the same time, Witham started commuting to work along a road where she often saw roadkill. All the dead animals made her think about how Americans’ relationship to nature changes when animals cross into the human world.
“Deer are lovely in the woods and fields but not when they eat the tulips. Bird feeders are great as long as birds eat the food. When a squirrel intrudes, it’s considered a nuisance. Raccoons are very cute until they get into the trash cans, etc.,” she says.
Witham’s photos are in conversation with the long still life tradition. She thinks 16th century European still life paintings and natural history dioramas are also about “man’s attempt to categorize, comprehend and ultimately control the natural world.”
Some viewers assume the animals are taxidermy, but Witham says they’re all freshly dead specimens she picks off the highway or finds during her runs. Once she’s made the photos, she buries the animals in a sort of cemetery in the woods behind her house.
“It seems like a fitting place, and I try to give them a respectful end,” she says.
Photos from Domestic Arrangements will be at The Lightroom Gallery in Philadelphia from July 18 through September 21.