Shane DuBay, PhD candidate, Evolutionary Biology (University of Chicago)
Carl Fuldner, PhD candidate, Art History (University of Chicago)

Over several months, Shane DuBay and Carl Fuldner photographed complete sets of select bird species in the Field Museum’s extensive study collections, which include specimens gathered over the last 130 years. Based on these photographs, they devised a novel means of tracking industrial pollution in the Great Lakes region, analyzing luminance data from within the images to gauge the relative amount of soot covering each bird. The result is a dynamic visual archive that leverages photography to explore the value of time-series for contemporary scientific inquiry. Their analysis provides insights that extend back decades before coordinated systems for measuring air quality, while also restoring the severed link between natural history specimens and the environments from which they were gathered. As the rate of planetary change accelerates, The Phoenix Index demonstrates how time-series provide an indispensable window onto life in the Anthropocene.

2014-15