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Insect photography and ethics
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mortenoen



Joined: 14 Feb 2017
Posts: 56
Location: Nissedal, Norway

PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2017 1:47 pm    Post subject: Insect photography and ethics Reply with quote

I come from DPreveiew, where I have been posting images and stuff for more than 10 years, and I have been a member of this forum only for a very few days.

I started asking questions about macro photography over at DPreview, and got a lot of advice (but nowhere near the quality and expert level at this site, I might add). I was told that many insects in stacked shots actually were dead bugs, and that capturing and freezing was the way to go. I got detailed instructions. Now, I work as an artist in photography and I am a novelist. Thinking about stuff and documenting it is my job. That's the reason I first started doing macro photography of dead bugs I found in my basement, exploring my hose in a new way. A very interresting exercise! When I presented the images for the audience at DPreview I was told about alle the techniques I should do to make "prettier" images, including this killing business. I was convinced that insect caught in spider web and long gone should be brushed clean, but best killed and photographed "fresh", just like the pros did. But then I killed a spider for fun, and felt bad about it.

Because, the very same evening a spider was travelign across my plate while I was eating dinner, and instead of just crushing it I emptied a glass of water, captured it, put it in a jar and down into the freezer she went.

Then I started reading a lot more about killing insects for study, as my habit is when I do something, and it was not so fun.

In my first post at this forum I mentioned this episode, and got a school in ethics imediately. But, I was told, each photographer had to figure out his or hers own ethics, so I did.

I read old threads here about the subject, how insects are killed every day anyway, that while doing nature macrography to keep bugs alive one trample to death a couple of hundres only by walking through the woods. I read about how we eat animals and all that jazz. A lot of good excuses. I still did not feel ok about my frozen spider. It was done inspired, and in the spur of the moment, to get insight into this new gengre of photography, but still, I killed the spider for fun, and that is not defendable, I found out. If insect photography was my job, I worked as a teacher or something, it would have been better, it would have had a purpose. But I don't and it didn't.

Whats more, my 14 year old daughter likes bugs and rats and stuff. So I thought long and hard about it and finally had a discussion with her. She loves reading Kirkegaard and Nietzsche, so we dealt with it on a philosophical level, and then a practical. We picked up the now dead spider, I put it on my light table and did my usual setup. I made it a learning experience for her, and we talked about spiders and the macro techinques involved, and the ethics, and the hours went by.

So the spider ended up serving a purpose after all. We then figured out how I should procede with my new project. I should continue finding the dead ones, with all the cobwebs and dust on them, and doing with other insects what I allways had been doing, catch and release. Or kill them if they were wasps, or an anthill on the doorstep. We don't like those in the house. But I should document the killing, and fess up to them, not make it pretty. But as I said, for the most part I should continue collecting the dead ones from the basement. And this is also the zen way. Do less, because you never know the impact of your actions. And I certainly should not kill for my own plesure. So no more pretty insects for me, because outside I only do landscapes and people with my Leica Monochrom. It might change, but not for now. I have one bag for outside, and one setup for inside. If not I get very confused and paralyzed.

After getting insight in the macro prosess and understanding most of it, my daughter made me do a last stack on a stage she prepared, just to make me understand how bad a thing I had done, and though it looks fun and even disrespectful at first glance, she was very serious about it. It also ended up as one of the very few color photos I have done as part of a project piece. She even made me call it "Dad Killed my Spider to Take Pictures of Her". Semes like everybody in the house is an artist now.

Sorry if anyone is offended by it, but my daughter insisted I never, ever made something I killed dead, look alive. Ever.

(And here are a bunch of my allready dead models, including the one posted http://mortenoen.blogspot.no )

Every day is a learning experience. Sorry. Again.

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Lou Jost



Joined: 04 Sep 2015
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2017 2:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Not sure what others will say to this, but it was a deeply moving post to me. In fact it moved me to tears. Not entirely sure why. Wish I had a daughter like yours to discuss this with.
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ChrisR
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Joined: 14 Mar 2009
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2017 5:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't know much about 14 year old girls, but I hobby-teach a class of 30 or so of them (ok some have dropped out, it's a voluntary class).

I do know that your daughter is special, and not just to you Wink.
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mortenoen



Joined: 14 Feb 2017
Posts: 56
Location: Nissedal, Norway

PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2017 5:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you both for very kind words. I'll tell her that you liked her ideas and photo set. She made this scene in just 10 minutes, and took care of the lights and everything. The figure standing next to the spiders grave is just half a centimeter tall. She is very skilled at this.
Thanks!
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abpho



Joined: 17 Aug 2011
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2017 6:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good for you Mortenoen. Thank you for sharing your story. You have a great daughter too. And Lou Jost is not alone in how he feels.

Cheer!S
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Olympusman



Joined: 15 Jan 2012
Posts: 3424

PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2017 11:39 am    Post subject: Killing insects Reply with quote

Where do you draw the line? Do you let a mosquito just fill up on your arm and not swat it? Are protists equally protected? When you garden do make sure you do not cut earthworms in half with your shovel? Those of us on this website routinely euthanize (kill) insects for the sake of imagery and it serves to educate all of us.
A few years back I mounted an exhibit at a local science center of stacked detailed images of insects and the visitors were amazed at what was living all around them -- especially the children. It was educational and informative and I found it presented to those who these images a new appreciation of the wonders and diversity of the natural world.
While many people are arachnophobes (fear spiders) I understand their place in our environment.
However, my curiosity ( and curiosity is what drives macrscopists and microscopists) compels me to capture and euthanise these insects for photographic study.
Besides, the insects outweigh us globally and have been proven to be remarkably adaptive. Ask anyone outside of Asia who has stinkbugs as a way of life since they have adapted so well to their new environments.

Mike
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MacroLab3D



Joined: 31 Jan 2017
Posts: 61
Location: Ukraine

PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2017 12:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for your story. I have same problem. I love nature too much to consciously kill anything, but if you want to stack you have no choice. I too choose to search for dead insects instead. I feel better this way.
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mortenoen



Joined: 14 Feb 2017
Posts: 56
Location: Nissedal, Norway

PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2017 12:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Mike,

I draw the line where killing is just killing for fun. Or to make me a better photographer, for myself. If it serves no purpose. I write so in my post. Ok, so everybody can make excuses or find a purpose? Yes, but it has to be a good one, and only you can decide if it's good enough.
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Olympusman



Joined: 15 Jan 2012
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2017 2:27 pm    Post subject: Ethics Reply with quote

I am very sensitive to the wildlife around our house. We live on a wooded mountain in Pennsylvania. We have had a problem for some time with a male woodpecker who discovered when he was drumming to attract a mate that the side of our house faced into the woods where he lived and provided substantial resonance. This guy was doing severe damage to our house and I could have very easily picked him off with my air rifle.
We had tried a number of things including hanging CDs and ribbons to frighten this woodpecker away, but he caught on quite soon that there was no danger.
Instead, we spent a lot of time and money to have a contractor come in and put a framework on the back of our house and stretch fruit tree protective netting across the back of our house.
Nature always finds a way and many times our efforts to accomodate or control nature seems like a Warner Brothers Looney Tune.

Mike
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Troels



Joined: 15 Feb 2016
Posts: 272
Location: Denmark, Engesvang

PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2017 7:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Humans are not rational beeings. We all have contradictional ways of doing things. Some time ago I read a book by a Norwegian philosopher. He explained in a fascinating way how most of us have two very different approaches to animals.

One approach is the hunter's: In the right context we can hunt and kill almost without feeling bad or sad. It is just a rational way of getting food, clothes or other goods (also pictures?).

In another context the same person can switch completely and feel connected and related emotional to animals.

The surprising fact is, that this switch can be very fast and effective and not necessaryly depends on the kind of animal or its properties. It is obviously a part of our mental and psycological condition.

If you at all use things made of leather or eat any kind of meat or fish you have allready indirectly agreed, that is is morally acceptable to kill some animals for your own needs even if you pay some others to do the dirty work.

That does not exclude the possibility that you also are able of warm feelings for the same animals under different conditions.

The most important thing for me is to help people expance their ability for feeling connected. From just liking dogs, cats and horses to also beeing able to have feelings for some of the the small, ugly and horrifying critters.
That is important for our ability to get political support for maintainining differentated biotopes and high biodiversity.

Seen in that light I find your daughters installation extremely beautiful and thought provoking. I wish some of us would make more pictures of this kind.
I think it is a great thing to show, that some humans can feel sorrow for a dead spider.

I would even be ready to kill a spider to make such a picture!
And, yes, occationally I eat meat.

Troels
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MacroLab3D



Joined: 31 Jan 2017
Posts: 61
Location: Ukraine

PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2017 8:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Troels wrote:
occationally I eat meat.Troels


I see no difference between meat and vegetables. In both cases you killing life. I like Native Americans approach on this. Every time you kill anything you say: "thank you, Nature". Assuming you need that to survive yourself. And never do such for fun.
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Olympusman



Joined: 15 Jan 2012
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2017 9:37 am    Post subject: Our relationships with insects Reply with quote

A very interesting (if horribly dry) book about humanities relationship with the insect world is "Destructive and Useful Insects - Their Habits and Control" by Robert L. and Robert A. Metcalf. Its perspective is primarily one of the roles of insects in agriculture, but also on the direct relationships to humans. By the way, there are many insects that kill US. Bear in mind, the deadliest animal in the world is the mosquito.

Mike
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mortenoen



Joined: 14 Feb 2017
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Location: Nissedal, Norway

PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2017 9:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you Troels!

I feel this duality very strongly. I hunt, I slaughter, I live near a farm and have my own pig and a couple of lambs every autumn, which I feed and look after. This is to stay alive, and my kids gather food for the animals we are going to eat also.
But even though I'm an artist, and my next show might be of insects, even educational in some aspects, we draw the line there. We don't kill for fun, to become better photographer, or for art.
I read books about insects now. I can enjoy other peoples work, who have killed to study and write this book. I don't have to repeat it to get knowledge, or learn about names and families and stuff. And in that book there are advices on how to go about collecting insects. Never kill if you don't have to. Never pick insects on the same biotope twice. Learn about endangered species. Study and release if possible. Never kill for fun. I think this is sound advice.
For the time being, I have picked the basement clean. Starting on the garage soon. In the meantime I practice on amber. No need to take any lives to get better at macrophotography or make beautiful and interesting images.

Mosquito in Baltic Amber 56-33.9 million years old, balancing on a bubble Smile

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MarkSturtevant



Joined: 21 Nov 2015
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 04, 2017 4:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have recently been coming across people who very strongly and self-righteously object to killing an insect or spider for the purpose of photographing it. My impression is that this is a view that has emerged from extreme political correctness.
So they have their opinions, and I have mine. In my opinion no one should object to killing arthropods for the purpose of research, learning, curiosity, pursuit of a hobby, or for simply wanting to expunge them from the house. The act should be done with respect for their place in nature, done quickly, but like a Terminator you can otherwise kill without guilt or remorse. I have THREE degrees in entomology (B.S., Masters, and PhD) and I guess that makes me an expert, right?
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mortenoen



Joined: 14 Feb 2017
Posts: 56
Location: Nissedal, Norway

PostPosted: Sat Mar 04, 2017 5:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks again for your point of view!

As stated, each and everyone has to find their own ethics. Having degrees in entomology does not make one an expert in ethics, for that you need a degree in philosophy or something. That being said, I truly dislice political correctness. But still, as an amateur, I prefer practising my hobby on dead insects. But as an entomologist you have access to substances to kill insects without causing pain (if the insects can feel such a thing in the first place. I understand the jury is out on that one). I have no access to that kind of medicine. I just don't like killing for fun when there are better alternatives out there for me.

Best regards!
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