Archive for Thursday, September 25, 1997


September 25, 1997


Animal skulls and photographs of skulls are going on display in Dyche Hall.

The pictures of skulls on display at Kansas University's Natural History Museum are illuminated in such a way that they seem to come hauntingly to life.

"Skulls," a striking exhibit of more than 60 photographs by naturalist Francois Roberts and actual skull specimens, opens Saturday and runs through Dec. 31. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds are represented.

One of several temporary exhibits Dyche Hall is presenting this year, the arrangement of craniums and the illuminated photographs, which give the subjects lifelike presences, were a natural fit for the museum, according to marketing director Brad Kemp.

"It fits the museum's mission, which is the study of life on the planet. We knew we could add to it and expand it with pieces from our collection," he said.

The photos and a dozen skulls are on loan from Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. Dyche Hall rounded out the exhibit with several additional artifacts.

As a visitor examines the photos of a smiling tiger's jaw line or a monkey's gaze, he is looking at the personal obsession of Francois Roberts.

Roberts, a native of La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, became interested in skulls while living in an apartment over a natural history museum and sharing storage space with the museum's animal specimens.

Now a successful commercial photographer whose clients include the Crate and Barrel company and Oprah Winfrey, Roberts was able to work with the Chicago museum's staff to select the specimens for the show.

To do that meant hours of combing through huge storage rooms and shooting on site instead of in his studio.

"What actually strikes me most is the difference between the actual skulls and the graphic image. They are striking photographs," Kemp said. "They are haunting in some ways; very illuminated. They seem alive. He (Roberts) is very animated in the way he photographs."

To create the effect, Roberts back lit the subjects with powerful light boxes. As the light filtered through the cavities and sockets, it eliminated shadows and created an effect similar to a jack-o'-lantern.

While visiting the collection, a visitor can see skulls of dolphins, snakes, iguanas, turtles and seals. But don't go looking for any human skulls.

"A few years ago we had a cast of a human skull on display -- not a real one, but a cast -- and even that was a little touchy, so it was removed," Kemp said. "There are no human remains in this collection."

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