#1313. Our Jurassic Insect Park

By Bob Kruger | Art & Creativity

Sep 28

Blame it all on Levon Biss and his TED talk. Inspired by his son, Sebastian, Levon related his experiences making really large photographs of really small things over several years. After watching his talk I said to myself, “I can do that.”

Tiger Moth

That launched me on my ongoing macro photography journey. Rather than me blathering on about all the technical details, I urge you to take a look his TED talk. It’ll only take about seven minutes out of your life. Grab a glass of wine and enjoy.

As has been noted many times on DS, digital photography has allowed us to separate the photo from the photo-graph. Before the age of digital photography, photographs were displayed on some sort of physical medium – glass, plastic, paper – but nowadays we almost always view photos briefly on some sort of display, usually a LED screen. Yet something is lost in this experience when compared to viewing a photograph permanently displayed on some sort of medium, analogous to the difference between reading a physical book or reading an eBook. A permanent display allows us to take our time and appreciate the photograph, much like a painting on a canvas or a fresco on the ceiling of a cathedral. This presentation gives a sense of intimacy to the experience that a video display or a slide show cannot. This is one reason we have museums and art galleries.

It was important for Levon to present his photographs on permanent media, and it was important that these photographs be large so that the intricacy of his insects’ exquisite designs, only revealed at the sub-millimeter scale, could be appreciated by humans who visualize detail at a much larger scale. Macro-photography allows us to appreciate a previously inaccessible world.

I had the camera, the lights, the programmable stepping motor, and all the software I needed to piece together a single large image from a few hundred smaller ones, but I didn’t have any really small things to photograph. Taking my cue from Levon, I decided to photograph insects, but I didn’t have access to the insect specimens from the Oxford University of Natural History Museum that he had. So I looked online.

The first thing I learned is that not all insect specimens are created equally. Most specimens I first obtained were unfit for photography. I learned that they must first be posed and mounted to look as natural as possible. In doing so, I damaged or lost appendages as often as not. They were small and fragile. I was clumsy. There is a whole process that I would have had to learn to prepare an insect for photography. Being the lazy sort, I looked around for help.

Enter Lawrence Forcella, the self-proclaimed God of Insects. Lawrence lives somewhere in Maine and has a degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, the same school where my daughter earned her MBA in Fine Art a decade and a half ago. Lawrence collects insects, lots and lots of insects. Among other interesting natural specimens, he dabbles in seed pods. Last I heard, he was cleaning the bones of a moose that he intended to mount. I wasn’t interested in the moose, but I was interested in his insects. Here is his website.

Lawrence provided all the insects I requested, mounted and ready for photography. And so my photographic quest began in earnest. I began making photographs of insects that were between 1/2 and 4 inches long. Typical photographs were synthesized from between 100 and 500 individual pictures. The finished photographs consisted of between 100 and 300 Mp. The process took anywhere from two hours to two days per photograph, nearly as long as the lifespans of some of my insects. My image processing wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as was Levon Biss’, but it met my needs.

One of my larger macro photographs is that of a Walking Stick (216 Mp). I had it printed on a sheet of mylar 40″ x 60″. It hangs on a wall of my house in a stairway that leads to our second floor.

Walking Stick
Walking Stick (detail)

Another of my first macro photographs was that of a Hawk Moth, its existence predicted by Charles Darwin some four decades before its actual discovery. You can read the story here. As an aside, my wife grows Angraecum sesquipedale, aka the Darwin orchid, which inspired Darwin’s prediction of the Hawk Moth’s existence.

Hawk moth
Hawk moth (detail)

Now came the hard part. How to display many of these creatures so they could be appreciated at one’s leisure? Since the walls of our home were already covered with my daughter’s artwork and many of my other photographs, I had to look elsewhere.

Recently, technology has been introduced that enables photographs to be printed on thin aluminum panels as large as 40″ x 60″. Such photographs are ideal for outdoor display. So, with some help from my wife I decided to create a “Jurassic Insect Park”. My over-sized insects, and a few giant flowers and seed pods that I installed to nourish them, would find a home along a walkway designed by my wife that meandered among the many stones and trees that covered our front yard.

Dendrobium Unicum
Dendrobium Unicum (detail)
Jurassic Insect Park Walkway

After looking around at various mounting options I decided on the aluminum A-frames used for displaying menus on sidewalks outside of restaurants. The largest I found measured 30″ x 40″, ideal for my walkway displays. The first insect to be introduced to our Jurassic Insect Park was an American Honey Bee. It was followed by a number of other insects and an Asian pitcher plant.

Jurassic Honey Bee
Jurassic Asian Pitcher Plants

We have just begun to populate our Jurassic Insect Park. The process will take a bit more time. Turns out that some of these critters are hard to corral! But given that the Jurassic period lasted over 55 million years, we have a little time. If you are ever in our neighborhood, stop in and see how we are progressing.


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  • The photos and back story to making the photos is admirable. What persistent can bring. Claude

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Wonderful idea, Bob, from start to finish!
    I hope that your neighbours will appreciate it and that it will stimulate others.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Sigh – sorry, but you’re going to cop a long reply. This topic is very near and dear to my heart, for a number of reasons.

    “the difference between reading a physical book or reading an eBook” – to me, a book IS what you call a “physical” book. It is printed – on paper or some similar medium. It is NOT some electronic “thing”.
    I like the convenience of a “book” – the “feel” of it – the smell coming off the paper. I have downloaded heaps of “eBooks” – and read all but nothing out of almost all of them – they are just sitting in this computer somewhere, in the wrong folder probably, waiting for me to find what I did with them.

    And I am sitting a room lined with bookshelves – wooden ones, that I personally built and installed – over a thousand feet of shelves, rising from the floor till the reach the ceiling. In english – french – italian. About cooking – plants and gardening – photography – music – history – philosophy – my own family’s history (three books on that!) – novels (in all three languages) – art – sculpture – on and on.

    My wife “reads” “eBooks” – like kids, in bed, with a torch, under the sheets – except it’s the screen from the toy she reads them on.

    Same with music. I was one of the first half dozen people in this state to buy a CD player for my HiFi system. Sounds hypocritical? No way. I have studied music on a formal basis since I was a kid – spent about 5 years at the Conservatorium. I “use” the CD player for a convenience system – I might have half a dozen different recordings of the same piece of music – the CD player is a wonderful toy, I can swap from one performance to another and analyse & compare them. Gone are the days of fooling around with needles, cleaning them constantly, with the snap crackle hiss of the way that medium connects with vinyl. My egotistical eldest brother thinks he knows everything and says I’m quite wrong and vinyl is better, but he hasn’t the faintest idea what he’s talking about because he is listening for a completely different reason.

    We have the same collision with photography. But thats drifting away from your article. Back to photo-graphs. That’s where I came in. Digital was non-existent. And I never liked “slides” or “slide shows”. Cinema had “other reasons” and – with it – other features. One of which was blurry images! Weird colours was another.

    Fast forward. 99.9% of all “photos” are now taken with cellphones That means precious few are hitting printer. Don’t believe me? Just TRY, to buy a decent photo album, to stick all your prints in. Have fun!

    But if you’re like me, you won’t be interested in images projected on a screen. You may no longer have a darkroom – but photography will still consist of a photo-GRAPH. A hard copy image, for lack of any better universal tag. NOT a screen image. The key difference being, it’s a reflected image – not a projected one. So the tonal range is less than 100%, where projected images can go WAY past a 100%, maybe past 00%, God knows!

    And it’s not just the tonal range that this affects – it distorts colours – well both mediums do actually, they just do it in different ways. À chacun son goût – to each, his own. (Would you believe the english – or some of them, at least – imagine that expression originated on their side of the Channel? Amazing!) My personal choice is to print all my keepers and stick them in albums. But it won’t be everyone’s.

    Enter canvas screen prints. But you’ve taken this further, Bob. When you ran out of walls, you’ve run out into the garden, and started printing larger prints on aluminium panels! Kudos for this one, Bob. That is A-MAZ-ING!!! I presume you keep them indoors and only take them out for “displays”.

    I set off down a similar path, with marine photos – not mine, I hasten to add, but we have one of the nation’s best marine photographers 10 minutes from here and besides, he set up a stall at the annual street festival here, right outside my front door! When I finished breakfast and went to see how the fair was progressing, he was standing right in front of me. Seconds later, I had him inside, measuring up so I could buy two of his photos that I’d fallen in love with some time earlier, and hadn’t been able to find who took them till that morning!

    Another solution when you run out of walls, Bob, is photobooks.

    And right now I am facing some difficult choices, about Nikon’s mirrorless cameras (and lenses). Seems to me I’m likely to end up with a couple of their Z-mount cameras and a range of Z mount lenses; with a bias towards macro, because as old age descends on me, mountaineering is getting rather beyond me. And macros is becoming increasingly attractive.

    • Robert Kruger says:

      I appreciate your comments. I have no intention of taking my Jurassic Insects inside. Outside is their natural environment. They, like me, will just fade slowly away with time.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Lovely images, Bob! The detail is so sharp that I felt like “petting” the moths, in particular. It’s a wonderful project to educate others and inspire people to learn more about insects and the beautiful Darwin orchid. Your Jurassic Insect Parkway looks charming – Kudos!

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    A fascinating project and so skillfully handled. The most amazing detail has come out in the images. I hope the community appreciates the trouble you have gone to. Just love the menu board concept too.

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