Inside the World Taxidermy Championship: The Spectacle Behind the Scenes

The rare event where backstage is probably more entertaining than on stage

Two unknown participants take a closer look at winner of Best of Category, Collective Artists, Recreations and Replicas FRANK NEWMYER and EARL MARTZ, Gladwin, MI. Marco Polo Sheep
Two unknown participants take a closer look at winner of Best of Category, Collective Artists, Recreations and Replicas —Marco Polo Sheep by Frank Newmyer and Earl Martz, Gladwin, MI.© Helge Skodvin/MOMENT/INSTITUTE
Scott Humble from Springville, Utah, prepare his Rock Mountain Elk. Scott was awarded "Best All-Around Taxidermist, Master Division" ? $2,000 from Ohio Supply
Scott Humble from Springville, Utah, prepare his Rock Mountain Elk. Scott was awarded "Best All-Around Taxidermist, Master Division"—$2,000 from Ohio Supply.© Helge Skodvin/MOMENT/INSTITUTE
An unknown man lifts Big Foot into a trailer
An unknown man lifts Big Foot into a trailer.© Helge Skodvin/MOMENT/INSTITUTE
Jim Allred from North Carolina, drives his show piece, a white tailed deer, into the expo.
Jim Allred from North Carolina, drives his show piece, a white tailed deer, into the expo.© Helge Skodvin/MOMENT/INSTITUTE
Carl Tregre from Houma, Louisiana unload and prepare his big horn sheep "The Ghost Dancer"
Carl Tregre from Houma, Louisiana unloads and prepares his big horn sheep "The Ghost Dancer."© Helge Skodvin/MOMENT/INSTITUTE
Ron Vanderpol from Molino. Florida, works on his two male lions in the truck before moving them inside the expo center.
Ron Vanderpol from Molino, FL, works on his two male lions in the truck before moving them inside the expo center.© Helge Skodvin/MOMENT/INSTITUTE
Daniel Meng from Bismarck, North Dakota, puts his prize winng leopard in the trailer after the show. "Best In World, Large Mammal"
Daniel Meng from Bismarck, North Dakota, puts his prize-winning leopard in the trailer after the show. "Best In World, Large Mammal."© Helge Skodvin/MOMENT/INSTITUTE
A collection of animal mannequins at display at the tradeshow
A collection of animal mannequins on display at the tradeshow.© Helge Skodvin/MOMENT/INSTITUTE
CAROLIN BRAK-DOLNY, Frankford, ON, Canada
Carolin Brak-Dolny, Frankford, ON, Canada.© Helge Skodvin/MOMENT/INSTITUTE
Dakota Taxidermy and Faniel meng(green shirt) puts their White Tiger into the trailer after the show. The White Tiger won second place in the Carl E. Akeley Award.
Dakota Taxidermy and Daniel Meng (green shirt) put their "White Tiger" into the trailer after the show. "The White Tiger" won second place in the Carl E. Akeley Award.© Helge Skodvin/MOMENT/INSTITUTE
Dale Selby from Nicolet, Minnesote, with his doll sheep. Mr. Selby won second place proffesional with tis head.
Dale Selby from Nicolet, MN, with his doll sheep. Mr. Selby won second place professional with this head.© Helge Skodvin/MOMENT/INSTITUTE
A wolf is beeing photographed by the Breaktrough magazine. The wolf is made by CAROLIN BRAK-DOLNY, Frankford, ON, Canada
A wolf being photographed by Breakthrough magazine. The wolf is made by Carolin Brak-Dolny, Frankford, ON, Canada.© Helge Skodvin/MOMENT/INSTITUTE

For the last few years, Helge Skodvin has trained his lens on animals. You wouldn't call him a wildlife photographer, though—rarely, if ever, has he captured the likeness of the a 4-legged subject that was living. Based in Bergen, Norway, Skodvin first started this focus when the local Natural History museum had to shutter for renovations and transport all their animal displays into storage—a process that became source of comical series "A Movable Beast." Another project, "It's a Jungle Out There," emerged from his drives throughout the country working in his typical slow-looking and typological way, and captures representations of exotic animals—tigers on a bedspread, an elephant-shaped kiddie pool—within the suburban Norwegian landscape.

"I'm in a period of my life with three small children and I'm surrounded by animals—on children's television, and movies, and all their play stuff at home," he tells American Photo. "These animals they are everywhere."

One thing led to another, and last month, Skodvin found himself at the 20th annual World Taxidermy Championship in Springfield, Missouri where 300 of the best taxidermists (who knew) compete for over $42,000 in prizes.

"Myself, I’m not a big fan of taxidermy, but I’m really drawn to it as a visual thing, especially when people are interacting with the animals," Skodvin says. "I find that quite funny and touching. There’s a morbid kind of fun to it."

Unlike the other set of taxidermy photos that made waves on the internet in recent memory—"Crappy Taxidermy"—Skodvins work exhibits a wry, but endearing kind of humor. It's all about the contrast and delightful awkwardness of something so natural yet artificial.

"It’s so easy to photograph with a kind of irony and to make fun of people, but I’m really hoping to avoid that," he says. "I don’t want to make a joke out of people I’ve photographed."

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