Brooklyn artist recreates crime scenes with unexpected victims


Photo Courtesy of Jeanette May

Jeanette May’s photo “Squirrel,” which was a part of her Morbidity and Morality project.

Brooklyn-based artist Jeanette May presented her thought-provoking projects on Wednesday, Feb. 3 — one being unlikely murder victims — for Oakland University’s Art and Art History departments. 

May’s lecture involved past projects dating back to 2008, including a project from 2012 to 2014 called “Morbidity and Mortality,” which displayed photographs of pet toys posed as murder victims.

May says that this project was a lighthearted take on the obsession with the depictions of crime scenes, murder and forensics. 

“These photographs are meant to be humorous, even though my inspirations were serious. I mean, I was a little disturbed by all the dead bodies,” May said. 

May explained that she loves murder mysteries, but found something unnerving about them. She found that in TV shows — “CSI:Miami” and other forensic series — there’s an obsession with corpses.

Specifically, there were artfully-composed images of dead bodies, often women’s bodies. She was inspired to create this project because of a fashion photographer, who began photographing the fashion models as dead bodies.

“As an artist examining the trend, I face the challenge of depicting yet not reproducing the violence — that was the challenge,” May said. “How to examine the depiction of violence or murder without simply reproducing it, and the answer for me was the pet toys.”

Pet toys resemble real animals that are already deceased, because they’re designed to be “murdered” by your pet.

She looked to the film industry, where dead bodies are often depicted and used that as inspiration for the locations of the crime scenes for the pet toys. In her research, she found one aspect of crime shows to be disturbing — a murder scenes that were staged beautifully.

“The staged murder might take place in a seedy hotel room, but if you stopped and paid attention, you would realize that the bedspread was gorgeous and the lighting was amazing,” May said. 

“Morbidity and Mortality” was presented in German magazine, Barbara. The photos were used, and the writers wrote their own narratives describing what they thought was the pet toys’ cause of death.

May walked the attendees through a few of her other projects, like “Easy on the Eyes” and “Bachelor Pads.” These two projects focused on the female gaze.  Unlike other projects that study the female gaze, she didn’t use women as the subjects in the photos, she used men. The men would be posed editorial style and never gazing into the camera. 

Her final projects included “Tech Vanitas” and “Curious Devices.”

May received her undergraduate in Fine Arts from the University of Illinois and a master’s in Fine Arts from CalArts. She has been awarded grants and fellowships from the NEA Regional Artists’ Projects Fund, Brooklyn Arts Council, NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs, Illinois Arts Council and Ms. Foundation. Her work is exhibited in New York, Washington D.C, Chicago, Los Angeles, China, Canada and Greece.