It's easy to gloss over the world of taxidermy, pigeonholing the people who practice the craft as morbid morticians of the animal kingdom. Photographer Mike McGregor would disagree with you, however.
He's spent a significant amount of time photographing America's taxidermy community, capturing portraits of the men and women who prepare, stuff and mount the carcases of deceased creatures in a series titled "Preserve." Far from finding the off-kilter artists gruesome or even macabre, McGregor sees the dark beauty in their obsessions, revealing the tender, intricate care involved in a practice many misunderstand.
"The hands-on nature of [the taxidermists'] work captured me. A grizzly might require five hours of nailing and fittings and then another five hours of combing and back-combing, identical to the work my stylists perform before a shoot with a fashion model," McGregor explained in an interview with The Daily Mail.
McGregor grew up around uncles who adorned their living rooms with pelts and mounts of hunting spoils, so the photographer had a leg up on amateurs not accustomed to seeing dead animals. However, he's certainly not the first artist to take a shining to this breed of anatomical tribute -- take, for example, the work of Klaus Pichler, Tessa Farmer or even Damien Hirst. Like those before him, McGregor was enraptured not by taxidermy's proximity to death, but its proximity to life.
“There is a intimate relationship between taxidermists and their mounts that I wanted to express,” he described to Wired.
Take a look at McGregor's photographs below. Behold, the real faces of America's taxidermists: