See the Creatures of the Night in “Moths at LArge”
Photo: Comstock’s Sallow Moth (10008 – Feralia comstocki). Wingspread 37 mm. Collected May 7, 2006 at Lac Bonin, Quebec. Scanned May 12, 2006. Epson 4870 at 4800 dpi (600dpi ref). Noise Ninja 1.2 305%
In the summer of 2002, Canadian photographer Jim des Rivières rented a cottage at Lac Bonin, Quebec, just 16 miles due north of downtown Ottawa. For all intents and purposes, he was as far away from civilization as possible. There were only a few cottages on the lake and no nearby towns. The cottage gardens were filled with lilac, rose, raspberry, iris, and daisy, surrounded by a forest of maple, oak, cedar, spruce, and pine. There’s no light pollution, making it a prime spot to set the trap. Lights on at 9:00pm in June, after the sun goes down in the evening.
Like most things, it doesn’t get started right away. But 90 minutes into things, the action starts to take place. Des Rivières has set a trap line, which he patrols with a flashlight, inspecting his quarry with the eye of a pro for the finest moths to photograph. His work is meticulous, for in death the moths rise to glory.
As des Rivières describes, “When I find an interesting specimen in good condition, I collect it in a pill bottle. I put the pill bottle in the fridge until I’m ready to prepare the specimen. The fridge is cool and dark, and this calms the moths down so they don’t batter themselves too much. When I’m ready to prepare the specimen, I transfer the moth to a killing jar containing plaster impregnated with ethyl acetate. The fumes quickly overcome it..”
With the moth departed, des Rivières gets down to work. He reveals, “After 20 minutes (up to an hour for large species), I remove the moth using bent-tipped tweezers, let it air for a minute, and then proceed to spread and pin it. Unlike traditional insect pinning technique, I do not pierce the body. To get a crisp image, I need the moth to lay as flat as possible on the glass of the flatbed scanner. So instead I pin the moth on its back on a slab of styrofoam using strips of glassine.”
The results are stunning portraits of these creatures of the night, little known for their beauty, and more often than not reviled. Whereas butterflies are the Cinderella’s of the insect world, whereas moths have been treated as the ugly stepsister, trotted out as symbols of evil in films like Silence of the Lambs. But the twist is: butterflies are a recently evolved line of day-flying moths.
Fortunately, des Rivières sets the record straight, with his exhibition Moths at LArge at the G2 Gallery, Venice, CA, now through October 2, 2016. For the exhibition, des Rivières traveled to Los Angeles to photograph two local species for this show: the Ceanothus Silkmoth (Hyalophora euryalus) and the White-Lined Sphynx (Hyles lineata), which he captured in the backyard of G2 owners Dan and Susan Gottlieb, a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat.
“There’s so much surprise and delight in encountering an unfamiliar crature that shares our local environment,” says des Rivières. “It helps people appreciate the wondrous diversity of our local natural environments, despite how unaware they may be of their presence just outside our doors.”
All photos: © Jim des Rivières
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.