In ‘Extinct and Endangered,’ Photographer Levon Biss Magnifies the Potential Loss of Insects Around the Globe
Despite existing on separate continents thousands of miles apart, the Madeira brimstone and giant Patagonian bumblebee are experiencing similar hardships. The former, which inhabits the islands it inherits its name from, is dealing with an invasive species decimating the trees its caterpillars require pre-metamorphosis, while the latter has been struggling to survive in its native Chile after farmers introduced domesticated European bees to aid in crop pollination. Both species are in danger and are part of an ongoing exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History conveying what’s at stake if their species are lost entirely.
Extinct and Endangered is comprised of massive, macro shots by Levon Biss, a British photographer who’s amassed a stunningly diverse collection of images with a variety of natural subject matter from dried seeds to iridescent insects. Biss often collaborates with institutions like the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the Oxford Museum of Natural History, gaining access to their archives and selecting specimens. He then takes about 10,000 individual images using various lenses that are then stitched together to create extraordinarily detailed shots of beetles, moths, and butterflies.
From the American Museum of Natural History’s collection of more than 20 million, Biss chose just 40 creatures, some of which have already vanished. “To know an insect will never exist on this planet again, primarily because of human influence, is upsetting and emotional. And it’s humbling,” he told The New York Times. “As an artist, it’s the thing that drives me on to make that picture as good as it can be.”
Spanning up to eight feet, the photos are immense in scale and focused on each specimen’s striking forms, whether the undulating wings of the 17-year cicada or the intimidating tusk-like appendages of the lesser wasp moth. Biss hopes that Extinct and Endangered, which is on view through September 4, will raise awareness about the rapid decline in insect populations around the world. “I want people to be in awe of their beauty but to also be damn sad about why they’re being put in front of them,” he says.
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The basis of life for many species, seeds hold immense power for reproduction and population. Whether a descendent of the first specimens that appeared approximately 400 million years ago or a modern hybrid cultivated to increase food production, the generative forms are often visually striking in their own right with otherworldly colors, textures, and shapes.
Photographer Thierry Ardouin showcases these marvelous, strange qualities through hundreds of striking macro shots now compiled in a forthcoming book and exhibition. Positioned against stark black or white backdrops, the specimens are primarily derived from the carpological archives of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, although some come from the International Agricultural Research Centre for Development and the Straw Cereal Biological Resource Centre. This wide-ranging collection includes the veiny, coiled moon trefoil, snake-like scorpion vetch, and small-bur marigold with its prickly body and horns.
The idea for the project germinated more than a decade ago when Ardouin was working on a documentary about French agriculture and discovered that large corporations own the patents to many seed varieties. He explains:
In 2009, in a very particular political context regarding undocumented immigrants, I noticed that there were ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ seeds. The question arose : does a “legal” seed look like an “illegal” seed? But seeds are tiny and, to see them, I had to get close to them and make portraits of them, as I would do for human beings.
He’s documented approximately 500 specimens since, half of which appear in the pages of Seed Stories to be released this month from Atelier EXB. Spanning 336 pages, the volume is a testament to the incredible diversity and resilience of the natural world. Many of the photos are also included in a group exhibition opening on June 18 at the CentQuatre Paris, which will pair the images with seeds from the National Museum of Natural History collection that visitors can touch and even taste.
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The last time we checked in with filmmaker Vadim Sherbakov he was soaring high above Iceland, capturing stunning aerial views with the help of a drone. In his latest short, “Velocity,” he zooms into ethereal mixtures of soap, ink, glitter, and alcohol that appear to simulate a combination of biological and galactic phenomena. The driving idea behind the film’s creation was simply “a colorful journey through uncharted cosmos,” says Sherbakov. He collaborated with set designer Luidmila Tregub, who was responsible for creating the primordial mixture of liquids that result in several amazing sequences in the film. (via PetaPixel)
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Stunning Shots from the 2021 Close-Up Photographer of the Year Competition Unveil Nature’s Minuscule Details
Salamander silhouettes, an ant clutching a snack, and the diverse findings of an unintentional insect trap are a few of the winners of the 2021 Close-Up Photographer of the Year contest (previously). Now in its third year, the global competition garnered more than 9,000 entries across 55 countries, an incredible selection that unveils the stunning and minuscule details of the natural world. See some of our favorite shots below, and view all winners on the contest’s site. (via Kottke)
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According to Olso-based photographer and researcher Jon Larsen, the most exotic particles from across the universe are likely hiding in a rain gutter or scattered among debris on rooftops. Larsen, who works in the geosciences department at the University of Oslo, has been at the forefront of micrometeorite discovery since 2009 when “a shiny black dot suddenly appeared on my white veranda table while I was having strawberries for breakfast.”
The event sparked a now decades-long exploration into the field of “cosmic dust particles, the oldest solid matter there is, ‘ash’ from dead stars, etc,” he tells Colossal. “Nothing has traveled farther…The search/hunt for stardust continues in all directions, but I am particularly interested in the unmelted ones, which contain water and complex organic molecules, (the) building blocks of life.”
These findings are what Larsen calls urban micrometeorites or minuscule bits of extraterrestrial matter found in heavily populated areas. Even though 60 tons of the dust fall to Earth every day, scientists previously considered the tiny pieces only discoverable in remote regions devoid of human life “due to an unsurmountable wall of terrestrial contaminants,” the researcher says. “Furthermore, the micrometeorites were thought to have a very short lifespan here on Earth due to the harsh weathering.”
That theory changed after Larsen scoured countless areas across the globe, producing a monumental archive of tens of thousands of particles. These range from the common barred olivine to the rare glass with chromites and volcanic residue. Most are considerably smaller than .05 centimeters.
Larsen’s pioneering research has culminated in a few books, including an identification guide and a forthcoming tome collecting his paintings, photos, and drawings on the subject. It also forms the basis for Project Stardust, a global community of micrometeorite hunters where he shares images of the gleaming, metallic findings in the form of striking macro shots that reveal crystalline details, jagged edges, and the particles’ lustrous surfaces. Simultaneously focused on the discovery and beauty of his findings, Larsen’s practice falls at the intersection of science, photography, and art. He explains:
Stardust looks like nothing else down on Earth, and they are beautiful jewelry from space. That it fell on me to discover these extraterrestrial beauties was rather bizarre because I do not come from academia but the art world… It was these qualifications which enabled me to find the way through the labyrinth and discover what everybody else said was impossible.
The publication of Larsen’s next book will coincide with exhibitions in Oslo and Berlin. You can find more of his work in the recent Werner Herzog documentary about meteors and comets, Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, and explore the vast archive of his findings on his site. (via Kottke)
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The diverse taxonomic order of spiders is brimming with strange biological phenomena: black widows have been known to cannibalize their mates, tarantulas are covered in barbed urticating hairs that they fling in defense similar to porcupines, and others have evolved to mimic the shape and pheromones of an ant to avoid predators.
On a recent trip to a wooded area in Santa Claus, Indiana, photographer Kevin Wiener uncovered one of the latter species, the tutelina similis, and snapped a few macro shots of the 6-millimeter creature. Each of the striking photos catches the arthropod’s iridescent exoskeleton in a manner that highlights its rainbow luster and reveals its ant-like appearance. Similar gleaming color schemes are widespread in the world of insects, including on the microscopic scales that cover butterflies.
The radiant jumping spider is part of Wiener’s vast archive of insect images, which he shares on Instagram and in his online group called All Bugs Go to Kevin. He launched the resource in the spring of 2019 as a way to offer insight into the micro-world of insects, and it now boasts more than 42,000 members, including scientists, macro photographers, and other arthropod enthusiasts.
Currently based in Evansville, Indiana, Wiener fuses his background in both wedding photography and pest management into a practice that highlights striking and bizarre organisms. “I try to photograph my subjects in a way that gives the appearance of a personality which makes them appear less scary and helps those with fears to see them differently. I want to showcase the beauty of arthropods and show people the things they don’t see with the naked eye,” he tells Colossal. “Basically, if it’s little and moving, it’s probably gonna have a photoshoot.”
In addition to uncovering the diverse world of insects, Wiener also teaches an Indiana Master Naturalist course and has presented to the Entomological Society of America as part of a symposium. You can follow his work that falls at the intersection of science and photography on Instagram and Twitter.
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