By the time your reading this, Ryan Hanley could very well be pulling back the flesh off an otter or maybe a pig. Taxidermy is an age-old profession – romantic, morbid and seemingly alchemical in the practitioners ability to bring the dead back to life – even if its only in the sparkle of two glass eyeballs. Taxidermy, from the Greek word for arrangement of skin, became popular in the Victorian era – mementos of man's triumph over beast. Soon, taxidermy became an art and the taxidermist an artist. Florida based taxidermist Ryan Hanley is an artist, but also, I can tell, a legend in the making – a regular American outlaw peeling back the hides of God's own creatures to make his hard earned dollar. In a country where man is free to do as he pleases, if he so is willing, Hanley, with his switch-blade grin and greased up pompadour, is doing alright in my book. Lately, Hanley has been presenting his objets de la mort on a tumblr called 'The Taxidermist' – which provides a fascinating peek into the daily life of a young taxidermist at work. Naturally I was curious. Read interview after the jump.
What's a normal day look like for The Taxidermist? Wake up, fuck my wife, make a shitload of coffee, thaw out an animal from the freezer, hit the flea markets, score some roadkill, check my traps, come home to a defrosted animal, put a Venom record on, get to work skinning/fleshing/mounting/re-shaping the animal, take a shower, cook a french dinner (or if the animal was something fresh, cook its meat), fuck my wife, relax.
How did this project come about? Not a project, a trade that I have worked hard at for the last two years. Self-taught then apprenticed at a taxidermy shop for a hard ass hillbilly ex-con who gave me six five foot alligators my very first day to skin out and flesh, which having never attempted before I then completely fucking aced. Not one fuck up. Needless to say, he was impressed and this was just the beginning of my year of apprenticing at the shop, doing everything from an elk to a 13 1/2 foot alligator (among countless others, not always as big) to someone's pet dog and any animal that came through the shop doors.
Where do you find the animals you work with? A lot are for customers who bring in a kill/catch/pet but often I find a lot of road kill everyday which piles up in the freezer. So long as the animal is fresh enough, or even a little beat up, you can always save at least the head, arms or hands, if not do an entire mount which is typically what happens.
What is your favorite creature to mount? Mounting a 13 1/2 foot alligator was pretty unreal. Having your hands and arms inside this thing that has been living in a swamp for 50 years that you now get to bring back to life forever is pretty sick. As far as favorites go, every animal is different to mount and I enjoy each one. Always looking forward to finding a new animal I've never stuffed before, always a new challenge I am happy to take on.
This is gross, but did you know they just found out that Armadillos are carriers of leprosy? Yeah we heard about this, but we also heard that nearly all people are immune to the disease so I could really give a fuck.
Can you tell me a little bit about the shootin' squirrel? After mounting hundreds of stand up alligators, sometimes holding beer cans, other times footballs (we do live in Florida), I thought why not make a less cheesy version with this small squirrel and one of the miniature .357 magnum guns we picked up one of the flea markets. Turns out, everyone's going fucking nuts for them.
Any threats yet from animal activists? I got a house full of animals and couldn't love them more.
Whats the future look like for The Taxidermist? Tomorrow I'll be in the shop mounting an otter and once that's done, make a few shootin' squirrels, maybe flesh a pig skin to turn into a rug for our sick house and clean up a few of the animals that have finished drying to then send to customers.
text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper
photography by Cameron Smith and Jen Hanley