Last of Its Kind
“If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth.” -- Chief Seattle
We are at a very interesting time in history. Advances in medicine and technology have enabled us to make decisions never before thought possible. The pace of genetic manipulation is far outstripping the pace of natural evolution by orders of magnitude. We can now choose the gender of our children, clone our pets, and make lab rats glow with the bioluminescence of jellyfish. What is next? What does the future hold?
Most people are unfamiliar with certain aspects of the natural world. In my first series of photographs, "Meet the Beetles," I worked to show the beauty of anatomical structure in the insect world. In this new series of photographs, "Unnatural Selection," I have taken my skill in repairing existing insects and used it to create entirely new species of insect.
Like a well-meaning researcher, I started out exploring the wonders of nature, then I learned to repair nature, then I began to perfect nature. It was a slippery slope that led me to begin recreating nature. Yeats said, "A terrible beauty is born." My terrible beauties were not born, but fabricated to be photographed.
Meet the Beetles
"Meet the Beetles" is an exploration of morphology and my attempt to reveal the beauty of anatomical structure in the insect world through photography as other artists have sought to reveal the beauty of anatomical structure in the plant world. Since insect species range from small and shiny (beetles) to large and spiny (walking sticks), I have created with my camera a forced exactitude of viewing point in order to magnify the taxonomic differences within likeness of multiple specimens of insect.
The insects I photograph are not found objects but highly manipulated ones. I order them dried and packaged from scientific supply companies, then steam and pin them in such a way that the full range of their shapes and textures is visible. This is contrary to scientific "spreading" in which only the parts of the insect necessary for identification of species are exposed. To this end, I arrange their wings, legs, and antennae not as they were in life, but as one might arrange exotic flowers, displaying detail and form through conspicuously symmetrical and stylized poses. The steel- headed pin evident in each image further serves to signal the viewer that these photographs represent an intentional aesthetic rather than a straightforward natural record.
I shoot with a 4x5 view camera and sepia-tone the prints in the style of the 19th century when scientists were debating Darwin's theory of evolution, museums throughout Europe were amassing their natural history collections, and illustrators were working to capture the likenesses of flowers in botanical drawings.