the photo journal + misc. news of Emma Kisiel

























Of course the first thing I looked into when it was confirmed we’d be going to Europe was the natural history museums in the countries we were visiting. I knew Paris and London had huge, historic museums, but Amsterdam didn’t have a natural history museum. I noted the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in nearby Leiden and another museum a bit further away and moved on to booking other things. It was actually Nat who kept bringing up Naturalis and how in his searches he saw there was a new building just about to open. I don’t tend to love new natural history museums so I wasn’t as intrigued as he was, but I said sure, let’s do it. That’s where we went on our first full day in Amsterdam. Nat’s parents headed to Zaanse Schans and he and I took the train to Leiden. Walking the short distance from the station to the museum, we met the most incredible cat! It was so big and solid brown and had very dense fur and we loved it. It’s nuts but we seriously still think back on that cat meeting all the time. A special, perfect thing for New Year’s Day.

The museum building was so, so neat. And it was laid out in this very cool way. That first space, with the light green shelving, is called LiveScience. You get to be so close to specimens – no glass separating you – and the drawers beneath are filled with them. And then you go through galleries/floors – from life to the dinosaur age, to the earth, to the ice age, to early humans, to seduction, to death. (The spaces were designed so that on some floors you go up a level in the exhibit itself.) It feels like an experience that everyone goes through one after the other, like a ride, versus stations and rooms you can visit or skip. Plus the fact that there were whole floors dedicated to seduction and death! Seduction was like a carnival, and death was set up as a labyrinth. I learned so much and saw things I never would have seen in an American museum. It was just really cool! So well done. I left feeling like I really wished I was Dutch.

I also liked the gallery of life a lot. It had that atmospheric effect, with changing light and sound. I think it was in the dinosaur age that there was a big room that just housed a model of a landscape that you could walk around. Surrounding it were those big binoculars (scenic viewers?) that didn’t show you something magnified but instead played a really wonderful video of what could be going on in the scene. It was delightful.

I figured it was because this place had just gotten a huge makeover, but I noticed it was odd to see all individual taxidermy animals, close together and arranged in a minimalist way, instead of in painted dioramas. I saw the same in Paris and London, though! Never thought I’d miss a painted background so much. 

Tot Zover














It makes sense to post about the reason I got to go to Amsterdam in the first place before starting in on my ~vacation~ pictures. Anyway, it’s chronological; visiting Tot Zover was the very first thing we did off the plane (after checking in at our Airbnb), on New Year’s Eve.

Early last year, I was contacted by the Dutch funeral museum with an invitation to participate in the upcoming exhibition De Laatste Aai: eerbetoon aan dode dieren / The Last Stroke Pet: ode to dead animals. Tot Zover (“So Far”) is a small museum in Amsterdam dedicated to Dutch funerary heritage and multicultural funeral customs of the present day. I was told that the space is situated on the premises of the monumental New East Memorial Park. It is on the edge of a grand historic cemetery (for human remains, not animals).

Maybe you can tell by that photo of me that I felt half-awake and half-alive during my visit to the museum 😂 My phone tells me these photos were taken at 3:30am my time, and I had just flown for 10.5 hours with pneumonia. Still, I was elated to be there, and of course I wish I’d had more time. My pieces (printed by a lab in Europe) looked beautiful – larger than I had ever seen the work! Standing in front of them will surely be counted as one of the great moments of my life, and definitely a highlight of 2019.

There were no guided tours as we were visiting during the holidays, but I appreciated the free entrance for me and my family, the translations in English throughout the exhibition, and an English handout and for the main collection. For the colophon, all participants in the exhibition were invited to make a dedication to an animal. I wrote, “My companion of 17 years, Candy, the little cat I picked out at a rescue event when I was 10 years old. The creature who taught me how to make my first photographs of animals, and how much I could adore animals, and how to treat them with respect and be endlessly curious about them. I’m so grateful to have known her.” I missed the deadline for the publication, but I was really touched to see Candy‘s name on the wall in the gallery.

Other things I loved about Tot Zover: the ribbon printer from 1980 (think funeral wreaths and memorial bouquets), the grave drums (metal drums containing memorial wreaths of artificial flowers to be placed on top of a grave, a tradition in the Netherlands from 1850 to 1950), the largest hearse model collection in Europe, and the work of the other artists included in De Laatste Asi, especially Tineke Schuurmans, Jop Vissers Vorstenbosch, and Stephan Vanfleteren (about whom the curator I was working with told me, “Your work hangs right next to one of the most celebrated photographers in the Netherlands and Belgium” 😵). The exhibition opened June 12 and was set to end January 19 (we went pretty much as late as possible in order to save money and time off from work). Due to its success, it’s been extended to February 23, which means – you can see it! If you happen to be in the area within the next three weeks.

When we left the museum, we walked through the big, beautiful cemetery for a bit, and I majorly delighted in the sounds of parrots in the trees. I’ve since learned that flocks of wild ring-necked parakeets are not specific to Amsterdam; I saw/heard them in Paris and London, too 🦜











In November, my sister and Dan flew out for my events at Blue Sky. I wrote about that hereReal Enough was selected by the gallery’s founders from a statewide call for an exhibition that highlighted “the future of photography in Oregon.” There was a First Thursday opening reception and then a panel discussion with the six artists that weekend. My neighbors and my coworkers came to support me and I just felt so happy. It was the coolest experience, every bit of it. With my family in town I drove to the coast for day, and after that Juniper had her spay surgery and Thanksgiving came and went, uneventfully, and Nat and I spent a day at the zoo. And then it was December, (finally) the month of the start of our trip to Europe.