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19th Ave New York, NY 95822, USA
Stardust and Ashes
by Mary Shannon Johnson

Project Statement:

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

—Carl Sagan, Cosmos

I made these cyanotypes with the ashes of euthanized homeless animals from an animal shelter’s crematorium. These animals died with nobody to mourn their passing, except maybe a few overwhelmed shelter workers.

I hope these images serve as a memorial to these animals, who were nobody and nothing. Turned to dust and returned to the cosmos, they become everyone and everything. Just as we all will someday.

For the past decade I have been working with homeless pets and exploring ways to visualize the tragedy of animal overpopulation. Up until now, I have used traditional lens-based photography. For this new work, I was inspired by artists who use simplicity, pulchritude, and heartbreak as their tools. Artists such as Chris Jordan, Michal Rovner, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who draw you in with beauty, but then hit you in the gut with sadness.

Using my own breath and fingers to manipulate the ashes, I work the ashes into celestial configurations while the sun exposes the cyanotype turning the negative space Prussian blue. With these images I hope to mourn the passing of thousands of our forgotten companions, and remind us that we are all connected and headed for the same fate: reduced to dust and returned to the stars.

Artist Bio:

Shannon Johnstone received her BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and MFA in photography from Rochester Institute of Technology. Her project, “Landfill Dogs”, has been featured in national and international exhibitions and magazines, and was most notably on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, and She has been a Photolucida Critical Mass Finalist six times (2017, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2010, and 2009), and she is the recipient of several grants including the Culture and Animals Foundation Creativity Grant (2013). Her first book, “Landfill Dogs”, came out in November 2015. Johnstone is a tenured Professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC.