Over the years, Kimberly Witham brought home the bodies of birds, foxes, squirrels, groundhogs, possums, voles, and raccoons, before finally laying them to rest in a patch of Earth close to her New Jersey home. Once, she found a fisher cat, a member of the weasel family. “I find baby deer every spring,” she says. “They are bigger than you think and so sad to find.” All of these individuals have died on the road–a few of the estimated one billion wild animals killed by vehicles annually across the United States.
Before she buries them, Witham places the animals among fruits and flowers grown in her garden and old, beautiful objects found at yard sales. Then she photographs them, immortalizing them for a single instant in painterly tableaux. Inspired by Dutch painters, her work lives within that strange and murky netherworld that separates beauty from terror, fear from longing. Her photographs are an abundant memorial to all of the animals who’ve died–and a haunting reminder of the preciousness of life, meant for all of us who will someday follow them into the unknown.
Five years ago, Witham’s series Of Ripeness and Rot was chosen as one of the winners of the Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards, then in its second year. As we opened the competition up for submissions this year, her solo exhibition This Mortal Coil, opened at Spillman Blackwell Fine Arts in New Orleans. We had the opportunity to chat with her briefly about her practice.
You won the Second Annual Emerging Photography Awards for Of Ripeness and Rot, your series of still lives featuring the bodies of animals who were killed on the road, whom you later laid to rest. What did this project mean to you at the time, and how has your relationship with it changed over time?
“At the time I made that series, I was working really intuitively. I made one image, then two, three… by the time I felt ‘done’ with the project, I created over twenty photos. The themes of beauty, decay, and reverence for the natural world expressed in On Ripeness and Rot are still present in much of my current work. It seems a lifetime ago that I made the images, but I am still really proud of that body of work. I think that project helped open some doors for me. I look back on many of the images and think, ‘Hey, that’s actually a pretty good photo.’”
What was your experience like after winning the awards?
“At the time I won the award, I was happily working with one gallery. I am now working with several different gallerists in different cities in the US. One of my goals when I entered the awards was to expand my gallery representation. I think winning the award brought some name and image recognition which helped create these additional relationships. I also received a number of requests to use my images for book covers and in magazines, which has been a nice development. As for awards I’ve received since, I was really thrilled to win the Clarence John Laughlin Award from the New Orleans Photo Alliance in 2018.”
How have you evolved as a photographer since winning the awards? What have been some of your proudest moments in the years since? “It is hard to say how I have evolved. I think as I get older (and hopefully a tiny bit wiser), I am more comfortable following my instincts and creating the work I want to create. Maybe people will like it, and maybe they won’t, but at least it is honest to my vision. I don’t have any single proudest moment. I do find it really satisfying when people come to my exhibitions, see my work and find it moving or resonant in some way. I currently have a solo exhibition, This Mortal Coil, at Spillman Blackwell Fine Arts in New Orleans, running through August 31st.”
Entries to the 7th Annual Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards close on September 3rd, 2021. Visit our website to learn more about our prizes and our jury and submit your work.
All images © Kimberly Witham