Born in 1799, Mary Anning was a fossil collector and field palaeontologist from Lyme Regis in the UK.  Her discoveries and insights contributed to the identification and classification of a wide range of prehistoric life and changed scientific understanding of the history of the earth.  As a woman born to a poor family , she was denied fellowship of the scientific communities of the day, her work often credited to the men that dominated the field. 

In recent years her story has become well known, particularly around the broader historic social injustices that her case highlights, yet information and evidence about her is fragmentary. The handful of letters and notebooks which survive reveal the extent of her knowledge, give glimpses into her state of mind, and act as a stark reminder of her poverty and relentless, solitudinous labour. 

Install at Weston Museum (2022)

Today she is acknowledged in the museums and collections that hold her work, though often credited as a collector, rather than as the field palaeontologist and scientific thinker that she was.  Throughout her life, she leaves us written evidence of the connections she made, questioning established thought of the time.  In a letter written in 1844 - fifteen years before the publication of 'On the Origin of Species' - she anticipated the fundamental basis of Darwin's theory of evolution.

Install at Arnolfini (2018)

'...from what little I have seen of the fossil world and natural history, I think the connection or analogy between the creatures of the former and present world, excepting as to size, much greater than is generally supposed...'

- letter to Miss Solly, 1844

Work in progress install at Lyme Regis Museum (2017)

As I made this work, I was able to spend considerable time alone with some of the fossils, just as Mary had.   This allowed me to find a way of photographing them that helped me better understand the processes she went through.  I looked closely for areas that would have interested her, details she would have noticed as she sat for days and hours, her trained eyes scanning their moonlike surfaces as she cleaned and prepared them for sale.  Later, as I sat in the lab cleaning dust from the negatives, I felt a connection to her, an encounter in a visual space we had both occupied.  I began looking for traces she left in this space.  On the fossils I saw marks from her tools; on her drawings correspondence and notebooks I looked to the movement of her pen on the surface of the paper.  Here, in this evidence of her thinking, were the intimate, physical marks left behind by a remarkable woman.