Friday, May 15, 2009

Macro Lepidoptera

As mentioned I have been working on the initial phases of several projects for Designs for Good and have taken the first steps on a new effect. But I’ll digress with some back-story first.

I have been attracted to butterflies since childhood. Some of the boys in the neighborhood would spend an afternoon catching them at our ball field on hot summer afternoons when we weren’t playing baseball. The ball field had a small wooded area over the homerun fence, and it was there we would sit for hours on end waiting to see those dashing flights of color.

We posted ourselves apart so that we could visually survey our several acre hunting ground and waited in the heat; waiting for one of us to scream Monarch! Tiger! or on rare occasion Zebra! Then we would be off at break-neck speed, leaping over gullies, dodging trees and brush, and squeezing through fences holes while swinging our nets to catch the prize.

That continued for several years and we amassed a collection of several hundred specimens. We learned about relaxing jars, killing jars, and how to properly prepare and mount the winged wonders. Our parish priest was a stogie-loving man and saved his Marsh Wheeling cigar boxes for us to store our prizes. My father worked at the HJ Heinz factory and (for whatever reason) he was able to obtain carbon tetrachloride to use in our killing jars. Today it is known for its adverse health effects. That was apparent to us young boys because it killed the insects in seconds once in the jar.

I’m old enough now that those times seem like someone else’s life. My color fixation today is focused mostly on glass and photography, but I have never forgotten my first color addiction. In my wanderlust years well over 30 years ago I found myself walking the tobacco lined back roads of Kentucky, and was struck by the large number of road-kill butterflies on the roadside. I collected the samples and put them in a jar with mothballs for preservation. The shots here are from those samples.

I used my Nikon 2DXs with a Nikor 105mm macro lens to capture these shots. Two studio flashes were used on either side for even lighting and the camera was mounted directly over the subject on a tripod. Little else was done to the images except a little ‘clarity’ and contrast added in Adobe’s Lightroom.

For my
new project I’ll start with a clean set of macro images from a properly maintained collection without the dust and tears of my roadside collection. Then the fun will begin as I run the images though whatever strikes my fancy in my image-editing arsenal. The end product will be highly abstracted (as if macro wasn’t abstract enough) images ready for art prints.

I’ve been looking for an excuse to purchase Nikon’s on-lens wireless macro flash unit (R1), and this is the project for that. So now I can look like those CSI guys on TV.

I’m also tempted to rent a Nikon D3x for the project since I’ll then have a 24MP file to work with. My intention is to print these images poster size and larger, and will likely crop each images during final composition. This will leave me at least 12-18 MP to work with.

Now for the Designs for Good part of this.

The art prints will be sold and the profits will benefit a good cause. I haven’t identified a target organization yet because that will be the easy part and there are a lot of steps to complete first.

Dr. Richard Vogt of the University of South Carolina has graciously consented to allow me access to the Richard B. Dominic collection housed in the McKissick Museum. Information regarding this collection can be found at

Now I have access to a collection and the technical and artistic aspects are mostly under control. I will need to focus on the business and marketing aspects of the project. Large art prints are expensive to produce, especially if I’m driven aesthetically to print on media such as cloth, vinyl or canvas. Ideally, a pre-production funding source should be secured.

I’ll be applying for several grants. This year the Minnesota State Arts Board is offering an Artist Initiative Grant in photography. The grants range from two to six thousand dollars. That’s a nice chunk of change which would help with equipment, travel, and production costs. I’ll look into other grants as well.

It’s time to start the process of finding Designs for Good sponsors. To be realistic I’ll have to accomplish a few projects on my own before any company or organization will consider a limited stipend. But it’s time to start that process.

Getting the prints in front of the public shouldn’t be a major hurdle, but the main idea is to raise money for charity, not to show art prints. I’m exploring options and have a grandiose idea of showing them at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (I seldom aim low). The MIA has a program designed for local artists and I’m hoping to fit into that program. The idea is to create a significant pool of money for a cause. The prints are merely an opportunity for patrons of a major institution to contribute and receive a very unique ‘gift’ in return.

Galleries seem hit or miss to me and are not my preferred approach. Various web-based marketing opportunities are also an option. At this point however I’m very optimistic that a museum or art center will be open to the idea.

So, there you go. Along with the CAFAC effort this starts the second Designs for Good project.

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