Natura Morta

A Childhood Ritual Transforms Roadkill Into Art

During bike trips to the beach over a summer holiday in the South of Sweden, photographer Maria Ionova-Gribina encountered what anyone riding their bike near a busy road is bound to see — the unfortunate animals dashed by passing cars.

The first was a bird. Far from being repulsed by its dormant form though, she was reminded of her own childhood.

“At the forest edge my brother and I buried birds and mice which had been throttled by a cat or had drowned in a pool,” she says. “We decorated the graves with flowers. So in my photographs I decided to return to my first impressions of death.”

In the photo series Natura Morta, Ionova-Gribina has made the otherwise tragic sight of expired fauna into central figures within intricate and beautiful floral compositions. Their quiet remains are given a new life amid explosions of colorful flowers and leaves. Mortality is grim, but even the inevitable can be beautiful and dignified—it’s all in how you frame it.

A sense of reverence shines through the photos, transforming these animals’ otherwise ignominious end into an image of dignity. Each subject is the locus of a storm of pedals and blossoms, carefully arranged such that they appear to course through the body of the animal, in some sort of essential connection to nature.

Upon discovering an animal recently deceased enough to be visually presentable, Ionova-Gribina collects it in a bag or a piece of fabric along with a bouquet of flowers gathered nearby. Taking it home on her bike, she lays the unfortunate critter out on the grass and painstakingly arranges the floral mandalas over the course of a couple hours. If she needs extra flowers she sometimes pulls from her own garden.

The animals remain in the position in which they were found, their corporeality resolving into a set of forms and colors that guide Ionova-Gribina in building her images.

“During the process I didn’t concentrate on my feelings, I was rapt in the creation of the composition,“ Ionova-Gribina says.

Despite maintaining a photographer’s remove from her subjects, working with the animals did not leave her unaffected. Over the course of shooting from 2010 through this year, she found that she had stopped eating meat.

“Obviously, the shooting had a great impact on me … it changed my attitude to using living creatures for food,” she says. “And yes, I touch them. But, after all, don’t you do the same with a chicken or a steak you bought in a supermarket, and probably, even cutting them with your knife? In my opinion, it is worse!”