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Field Notes
Photograph by Mark Thiessen
Rosamond Purcell

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

This was an unusual assignment for me because I actually photographed live specimens. It was absolutely fabulous! I've been working in museums for years, and I don't get that opportunity very often. I'm very accustomed to looking at things that have been dead for a long time.

I loved photographing all the live creatures: the scallops and the sea squirts and the lobsters and the horseshoe crabs. Sea animals are phenomenal. There's just nothing like a creature when it's moving.

I particularly liked the scallop because it has bright blue eyes all around its mantle. And the sea squirt! I'd never looked at a sea squirt before, and I just wanted to keep on looking.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

Institutional attitudes in museums drive me crazy. Too often they aren't willing to allow their territory to be explored by someone who is looking at it differently. Institutional thinking deflates the imagination that an artist can bring to their collection—working carefully, of course.

Luckily, everywhere I shot for this piece was great. Everyone was cooperative and pleased to be included. But that's not always the case.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

I was photographing at the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, more than an hour from Santa Monica, California. It's in the fields, in a little industrial park. It was strawberry season, and every day migrant workers were bent over double picking strawberries in the fields. The immigration protests had just started, and there were several days when I wondered who was going to show up for work.

One day torrential rains caused the drainage ditches to overflow into the road. Driving home, I saw streams of fresh strawberries rushing down the highway. Rivers of strawberries. It was odd, and beautiful.