Mariposas Nocturnas by Emmet Gowin

Mariposas Nocturnas.
Moths of Central and South America, A Study in Beauty and Diversity.
Photographs by Emmet Gowin. Foreword by Terry Tempest Williams.
Princeton University Press, Lawrenceville, USA, 2017. 144 pp., 90 color and 2 black-and-white illustrations, 11½x14¼

“Behind all these manifestations is the one radiance, which shines through all things. The function of art is to reveal this radiance through the created object.”

— Joseph Campbell from The Power of Myth

Mariposas Nocturnas is a catalog of photographs documenting visitations from nocturnal moths in Central and South America. A beautiful record of the winged visitors, it is also a curated snapshot of the time and place - the specific forest, the phase of the moon, and this precarious moment in the history of the natural world.

1,275 in all, the moths were photogrpahed alive and unposed. “I wanted to photograph them in a natural gesture and posture completely unlike what you would see in a pinned specimen,” he says. “It’s beautiful the way they master gravity.You can often feel the alertness in the way they stand, in the way they holds their wings.”

Beginning in 1999, Gowin visited undisturbed primary mist forests in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, French Guiana, and Panama.The resulting photographs are presented in 51 index grids each consisting of 25 moths. Every index represents a particular place or region, and a short window of time - usually within one dark cycle of the moon.

To attract the moths, Gowin set up a collecting sheet in the forest. He started a 350-watt generator to light a mercury vapor lamp and a black-light fluorescent tube and waited for the moths to come. Often what arrived were moths he had never seen before and that he would never see again.

Gowin photographed the moths on the sheet and on the wall of the research cabin. Later, he placed them on painted wood, on fragments of silk flowers, on children’s drawings, and eventually on images from the history of art which he scanned and printed at home and then carried to the tropics - William Blake, Edgar Degas, Pierro Della Francesca, Hendrick Goltzius.

“I didn't want everything on a leaf,” he says. “I wanted the meeting of two worlds. The moth meeting the cultural surface of man-made art. I wanted to show that I’m a visitor and that they are visitors.”

Opisthoxia conjunta (Herbulot, 1988)

Gowin saw the moth land on the ground of the cabin and he took a picture. “The flash spooked it, and it was gone” he says. Later, sorting through papers he found the moth. “It had crawled up between sheets of paper in this random chaotic stack,” he says. It was a book, a report illus- trating wounds and illnesses of the American Civil War - beautiful chromo- lithographs from the 1870s. It was perfect, I didn’t touch him or move him or anything, he was just there, just so. How curious that my interest in the American Civil War might make a good backdrop for a South American moth. The beneficence of chance, the possibility of the unknown, things coming together - a story like that is very affirmative to me.”

charcoal book club

echo mask 1

echo mask 2

echo mask 3