The Natural History Museum of Utah is located inside the $103 million Rio Tinto Center in Salt Lake City, near the University of Utah campus. The center houses the museum itself, through its five floors and 163,000 square feet of space, as well as conference space, a cafe, public areas, and more. Designed by Todd Schliemann of Ennead Architects, it is one of the best examples of modern western architecture in the region. Its inviting rooms, friendly staff, and fascinating views overwhelm the visual senses.
I began a project to document the exhibits, architecture, and patrons of the Natural History Museum of Utah in December 2011. It would capture my full attention for nearly five months. I set out to find a way to convey a sense of the place to those who have never been there. What I didn’t expect was the personal journey that resulted. The meditative quality of the structure causes one to contemplate one’s existence in the universe, our relationship to it, and our relationship to each other. It is, in every real sense, a way for us to touch our ancestors, understand who we are, where we came from, and discover what we owe the future.
At the Museum’s essence is the overwhelming weight pressing on visitors that our responsibility to the natural world has never been more palpable than now. We are the stewards of this little section of the galaxy, and there is nowhere else for us to go. The exhibits demonstrate in irrefutable beauty the understanding that life is more precious than the finest gems and rarer than the rarest of minerals. A simple virus is more valuable than the most valuable painting. Consciousness, itself, the single rarest element of all.
Shown in the NHMU’s halls is overwhelming evidence of our shirking of the responsibility we owe our home. Evidence upon evidence demonstrating our wasted energy, misuse of resources, and greed. It is a slap to the face, or rather, to the soul. It begs that we awake and become aware of who we are and what our purpose must be. One cannot spend any serious length of time exploring the museum’s exhibits and not leave with a profound sense of duty, and a desire to protect the natural world around us.
It became, and still is, one of the most meaningful photographic experiences I have had.
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To view more images from this project, see the gallery.