Like a Moth to the Flame, We’re Drawn to the Art of Mike & Doug Starn

Photo: Attracted to Light  1. Art size: 120 X 264 inches. Medium: Sulfur toned silver prints hand-coated on Thai mulberry paper. Date: 2002.

Light shines through the darkness, illuminating all in its path. Light is the source of the visible world, whether in our everyday existence or in the creation of a photograph. It is light that makes seeing and recording sight possible, and so it is a wonder to behold. It is an energy that guides as well as stuns, and in this way, light is a force of reckoning.

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American artists Doug and Mike Starn understand this very fact, and began a series of photographic explorations of the relationship between nocturnal moths and sources of light. The ill-fated moths are drawn to their deaths, as the Starns capture their last moments on earth in a series of photographic prints titled Attracted to Light. A selection of works from this series are on view in Starn Brothers: Absorption of Light at 516 ARTS, Albuquerque, NM, now through September 17, 2016.

Attracted to Light 2 (triple). Art size: 68 X 63 inches. Medium: Sulfur toned silver prints hand-coated on Thai mulberry paper. Date: 2002

The Starns produced most of the images for the series on the porches of their lakefront homes in upstate New York. They created customized macro lenses in order to get the detail needed to enlarge the images to the scale of 10 x 22 ft.—a tremendous undertaking, and one that underscored an appreciation for the medium itself as the artists developed a printing technique that the refined over a period over years. The Starns describe a process, “…in which silver emulsion softens during darkroom development and minute flakes of the image wash away, mimicking the moth’s delicate and tattered wings after banging against the light on the back porch while the soft paper echoes their velvety texture. “

Similarly, the photographs are constructed in pieces placed together recalling nothing so much as the grid of compound eyes. The singularity of each piece reads beautifully within the whole, evoking a tension inherent in the sense of disintegration that is the nature of life itself. It’s very romantic, very tangible, very transitory. As they reveal, “The construction of the photographs, pieced together in parts, recalls the very personal interpretation which our minds view every moment of life.”

516 ARTS employee M. Paige Taylor installing Attracted to Light 1 by Mike and Doug Starn. Courtesy of Suzanne Sbarge.

For the Starns, light is a metaphor for power and knowledge: “It is history, the future, and spirituality…Light is what controls every decision and action we take; light is thought.” Light is what guides us towards the details too small to the be seen by the naked eye, now exposed by virtue of light’s limitless supply. And in this way, we can know that these moths, like so many of their brethren, did not die in vain. In death they have become larger than life yet embodying the very transience of life itself. They are romantic figures cast on a majestic scale. Absorption of Light is a marvel to behold, just like light itself.

All photos:  ©Mike and Doug Starn, courtesy of 516 ARTS.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.