My projects organize themselves around hidden troves. I am drawn to museum collections, science and natural history specimens, material objects, social units—assembled contents that have been neglected or forgotten, erased by anonymity, time, death or darkness. In quiet contemplation, I touch, rearrange and photograph these objects as I consider their archaeological value and explore new ways to bring them to light. My work visually and procedurally recalls the scientific practice of taxonomy. However, where taxonomy sets out to document, define, contextualize, codify and classify, my artistic practice reverses this inertia. In each collection I photograph, I seek instead to reanimate my subjects, unpin them from their histories, and erase their contexts.
My most recent work, Collections (Daylight Books, 2016), is a culmination of a decade of photographing specimens in state and university science collections and national park museum collections. I received grants from the U.S. National Park Service and collaborated with scientists at The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Duke and North Carolina State University to access various science and natural history collections. This project is particularly timely during this centennial year of the National Park Service, and as museum collections are in a current state of crisis due to diminishing funding and support. My current focus on national parks is a way of preserving these fragile specimens that represent American history.
Leah Sobsey works in 19th-century photographic processes combined with digital technology. She exhibits nationally in galleries, public spaces, and museums. Her most recent exhibitions were installed at 21C Hotel Museum in Durham North Carolina and Rayko Photo Gallery in San Francisco, California, which also featured her first monograph, Collections, released in July 2016 by Daylight Books. Her work is held in private and public collections across the country, and was recently acquired by the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) for its permanent collection. She is one of the core artists in Bull City Summer, a documentary project that explores the Durham Bulls AAA baseball team, a Daylight Books best seller. Her images have appeared in The New Yorker.com, The Paris Review Daily, Slate.com, Hyperallergic.com, The Telegraph and Audubon Magazine among many others. She has taught at the San Francisco Art Institute, the Maine Media Workshops, Duke University’s Center for Documentary studies, and NCMA. Sobsey, the co-founder of the Visual History Collaborative, is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.