Insect Photos

Albrecht Durer drew a stag beetle in 1505. It was rendered with obvious fascination, keen observation and meticulous care. Many other artists, both contemporary and historical, have worked with insects as subjects.

I’ve become interested in insects, especially large beetles, for many of the same reasons. They are beautiful and have interesting colors, textures, patterns and forms. The same could be said for butterflies. But beetles are also threatening and ugly.

I was uncomfortable picking up a large dead beetle specimen. A rhinoceros beetle with an eight inch wingspan is intimidating dead or alive. Charles Darwin remarked that if this type of beetle were enlarged to the size of a horse or even a dog “with its polished bronze coat of mail and its vast complex of horns…it would be one of the most imposing animals in the world.” For me they’re simultaneously beautiful, menacing and ugly, an aesthetic more complex and interesting than just being beautiful.

Two opportunities allowed me to study and photograph some extraordinary insect specimens. I was given access to the collection of the Reading Public Museum. I appreciate the generosity of Ron Roth who was the Museum’s Director at the time and Mike Feyers who was the Science Curator.

The Museum was founded by an entomologist, Levi Mengel, over a hundred years ago and his specimens formed the nucleus of their collection. The collection continued to develop, but I was told that no specimens had been added for over 50 years. It is housed in an old, poorly lit storage building on the museum grounds.  The specimens are painstakingly arranged in glass-covered drawers in tall wooden cabinets.

In looking at the carefully preserved, arranged and labeled specimens, I had the feeling I was going back in time, looking at a labor of love that hadn’t been seen for 30 or 40 years! Not only did I have an excellent collection of insects to work with, but also a fascinating view of the history of scientific taxonomy and display. The second opportunity was working with Bob Natalini, whose profession and passion was collecting, mounting and creating jewelry made of insects. You can check out his website

High resolution digital photography allowed me to observe insects in greater detail. My intent was to use the insect photographs as reference in creating drawings, etchings and lithographs. Continued work in photography led me to think of my photos as artwork rather than just reference. This body of work including photographs, drawings and etchings formed a solo exhibition, “Insects Illuminated” at the Reading Public Museum in 2005.

Salvazano imperialis