Thursday, June 12, 2003
Photo: Winged Dreams: The insect world populates the photographic work of Jo Whaley
Fear and revulsion seem to be the most common human reaction to an intimate encounter with members of the insect world. But to encounter the insects as photographed by Linda Broadfoot and Jo Whaley in their current exhibition at the Center for Photographic Art, is to marvel at the artistry and beautiful jewel-like design of nature''s most diverse and unique creations.
Broadfoot and Whaley bring two very different but complementary approaches to their oversized photographic studies of moths, butterflies and other assorted arthropods. Where Whaley revels in the rich color and riotous patterns of her subjects, Broadfoot takes a more precise, clinical approach, emphasizing the elegant form and symmetry of insect design.
"There''s a nice counterbalance in our work," comments Whaley, an Oakland-based artist/photographer with an extensive background in painting and set decoration and design. "My photographs are baroque and dense, while Linda''s are more direct and illustrative."
Working primarily with moths and butterflies that she collects herself or purchases from an insect supply house, Whaley photographs her subjects against different backgrounds assembled from found objects and materials.
"My take on using insects is to place them in constructed environments so the insects look like they''re adapting to the industrial waste of our culture," explains Whaley, whose work is represented by the Robert Koch Gallery in San Francisco. "It''s a springboard to examine the tension between the natural world and urban culture, kind of like a natural history diorama gone amok."
According to Whaley, her work has somewhat of an educational component, grounded partly in recent scientific evidence of insect adaptability to manmade environments, termed, "industrial melanism." Whaley cites the example of the white birch moth in England, which was found to have developed an adaptive coloration to blend in with the soot from adjacent coal plants that was landing on birch trees, as one specific example of insect adaptability to the human world.
Whaley likens her insect photographs to the theatrical painting she has done for the San Francisco ballet and opera companies, particularly in her careful use and manipulation of lighting to enhance the insects'' coloration and patterning. All her images are printed on chromogenic photographic paper noted for its richness of color and detail.
"I like to seduce the viewer with the visual sensuality of the insects," says Whaley. "The reason I make large prints is to make the insects the size of a human face so the viewer is confronting a ''portrait'' of the insect in a one-to-one relationship. It transforms the insects from little decorative objects to subjects that strike awe."
A former biology major in college, Florida-based photographer Linda Broadfoot brings a scientific curiosity and fascination with the natural world to her large-format studies of insects. She orders most of them from butterfly and tropical insect supply houses, and then prepares for photographing.
"I''ve always been intrigued by small details," comments Broadfoot, who is represented in Carmel by the Weston Gallery.
Working with a unique 20x24 Polaroid camera, Broadfoot''s carefully crafted photographs celebrate the vivid formal elements of insect physiognomy. Using a "transfer process," in which the partially developed Polaroid color negative film emulsion is transferred onto watercolor paper, Broadfoot then manipulates the image on the paper to recreate the look and feel of antiquarian, hand-tinted etchings of flora and fauna.
"The technique I use is more of a subtractive process, where I remove a lot of the background to increase the look of the old botanical drawings," she explains. "Each print is unique because the transfer is different every time."
Animalia Venustiora: Beautiful Creatures is on display at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel through July 3.