David Orr Photography Explores Skulls and Symmetry

June 24, 2016

For human beings, the beauty often lies in symmetry. We find it attractive and pleasing as we, ourselves, are basically symmetrical. For this reason, the examples of symmetry presented in the harmonious and beautiful proportion and balance abound in art, architecture and design. David Orr photography series Perfect Vessels that explores aesthetic and cultural ideals of perfection and symmetry will be on view at The Mütter Museum. This celebrated Los Angeles-based photographer has created twenty-two photographs between 2014 and 2016 inspired by the collection of human skulls in this prestigious museum of medical history.

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Left: David Orr - Unknown (shattered; reconstructed), 2015 / Right: David Orr - Unknown (underbite; metopic suture), 2015

The Beauty of Symmetry

After photographing individual skulls up-front, David Orr has created a perfectly balanced ‘memento mori’ by mirroring one side of the skull. With different and unique surface textures that almost form abstract patterns on these skulls, the mirroring has created a Rorschach’s effect. The majority of these suggestive shapes are seen in the areas that have been considered as pathways to higher consciousness, such as the ‘third eye’ and the ‘aperture of Brahman’ at the top of the head. The word vessel, as Orr explains, has various meanings including ‘the container, a craft one travels in, a conduit through which powerful energy manifests itself, a utilitarian form that can be admired both as artifact and art.’ Works are positioned inside reflective aluminum discs, and serve as both photographs and objects.

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Left: David Orr - Geza Uirmeny, m 80 (attempted suicide at 70; lived until 80 without further melancholy), 2014 / Right: David Orr - Unknown (syphilitic necrosis), 2014

Hyrtl Skull Collection

Orr’s photographs are based on the Museum’s Hyrtl Skull Collection – the collection of 139 human skulls ranging in shape acquired from Joseph Hyrtl in 1874. This famous Viennese anatomist has been collecting and studying these skulls to show that cranial anatomy varied widely in the Caucasian population of Europe, as well as to demystify the pseudoscience of phrenology. The majority of Hyrtl’s skulls are displayed alongside the information about the owner’s identity, origins, life and death, providing an insight into specific lives lived. Photographed on-site at the museum, each visitor can also see the original skulls that the photographs were based on. Once mirrored, imperfections between the left and right side of the skull vanish and become much closer to perfection.

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Left: David Orr - Francisca Seycora, f, 19 (famous Viennese prostitute; died of meningitis), 2015 / Right: David Orr - Giromalo Zini, m, 24 (tightrope walker; died of broken neck), 2016

David Orr Photography at The Mütter Museum

As America’s finest museum of medical history, The Mütter Museum displays beautifully preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments arranged in a nineteenth-century ‘cabinet museum’ setting. Through this interesting collections, visitors can understand and appreciate the mysteries and beauty of the human body as well as learn more about the history of diagnosis and treatment of diseases. The exhibition Perfect Vessels will be on view in the Thomson Gallery at The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia from July 15th, 2016 through January 5th, 2017.

Featured image: Left: David Orr - Milan Joanovits, m, 30 (robber and murderer; executed in Belgrade), 2016 / Right: David Orr - Unknown (trans-orbital lobotomy), 2014. All images courtesy of The Mütter Museum.