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Chip Clark

The Smithsonian reveals its secrets to photographer Chip Clark


“This is a fascinating place; it’s chock-full of interesting people doing really neat stuff.” That’s how Chip Clark once described the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History where he worked as a photographer for 37 years.

Birds Collections, National Museum of Natural History

Chip arrived at the museum, which is in Washington DC, in 1973, a scientist-turned photographer who described working there as “being in hog heaven.” He often went out into the field to document the Smithsonian scientists’ research trips – travelling everywhere from the Peruvian rainforests to the Caribbean seabed. In an entertaining interview with the museum’s website, he reminisced about battles with 100% humidity, sometimes-fractious colleagues and “critters out there that will kill you, or eat you, or both.”

But perhaps Chip’s best-known work came back in the States. Over the course of 20 years, he photographed the famous museum’s archives and the archivists who keep them organised. This is no mean feat when you consider the numbers – the Smithsonian has 30 million insects, 4.5 million plant samples and seven million fish preserved in jars.

He completed the last of this remarkable series not long before his death in 2010, and every few years the photographs come in for renewed praise and attention online – most recently when they were rediscovered on Reddit.

These brilliantly composed pictures give us a glimpse into a world we almost never see and they seem to have been a labour of love for Chip, whose passions for natural history, for the Smithsonian museum and for photography come together in style.

Entomology Collections, National Museum of Natural History

Whale Skeletons, Museum Support Center

Invertebrate Zoology Collections, National Museum of Natural History

Botany Algae Collection, National Museum of Natural History

Mineral Sciences Collections in the “Blue Room”