USNM Bird Collection, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution © Chip Clark, 1992
“All the pretty, cushy places on earth have already been studied,” said photographer Chip Clark with a laugh in conversation with Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where he worked from 1973 until his death in the summer of 2010. He was on the ground with scientists when they collected samples and data, roughing it in tents, sharing space with bugs and critters of all kinds.
Clark’s professional dedication didn’t stop when he came back home; over the course of the second half of his career at the Smithsonian, he created an astonishing and historic collection of images made behind-the-scenes in the archives of the National Museum of Natural History, where about 99% percent of the museum’s holdings remain protected from the general public.
The images Clark left behind, suggests Smithsonian.com’s Maya Wei-Haas, who spoke directly with Assistant Director for Collections Carol Butler, provide a glimpse into the private universe where few, highly-qualified feet are permitted to trod. What’s on view at the museum at any given time represents only the tip of a colossal iceberg; countless items and specimens that were used to construct each and every exhibition, even if they were withheld from the final edit.