01 February 2011

The case of the galloping case moth caterpillar

My hero of the photography of the small, Paul Harcourt Davies, in Raindrops on roses … and whiskers on kittens, the best essay about nature photography that I've ever read, opened my eyes to some of the reasons for the spectacular difference in wildlife photos. His horror stories of artifice to create breathtaking beauty remind me of Octave Mirbeau's Le Jardin des Supplices (The Torture Garden), and of some discussions I've had with other haiku poets whose poems spring from newspaper articles that they pick from and exaggerate, rather than finding the profound in actual life.

Davies, and the equally superb photographer and teacher, Niall Benvie, spoke about an ethics declaration that I've now signed, too, as I not only agree with it, but until they mentioned it, wondered if anyone else felt like I do — that all this fiddling with nature and the image to create the best shot isn't respecting nature at all, but setting up people to find nature as deficient as a pooping dog when you can get your kid something that only needs to be recharged, or your grandmother something that can not only clean up after her, in a perfectly imagined future, but pretend interest at appropriate intervals.

Which brings me finally, to yesterday's extremely hot day, and the galloping c.

This case moth case was in the middle of a road, so I picked it up before it could be flattened.

Oeceticus elongata

I thought to keep it with my other case moth cases, which I find fascinating, but little did I expect it to wriggle. Not only that, but its caterpillar inhabitant was extremely active. I put it down in a place more friendly than the middle of a road, and watched it for a while, as it emerged from its case and began to move, surprisingly fast, dragging its case behind it. But the time was noon, and the heat, intense.

"In walking, the caterpillar has only the head and three pairs of horny legs without the case, and this part of the body is consequently hardened, and is much darker in colour than the rest of the body which is protected by the case. It drags the case along as it walks … Everyone has noticed these case moths and the wonderful arrangement of the 'sticks' or leaves. The inside of the case is smooth and silky. If the caterpillar be placed in a box with a glass lid, one will soon see regular transverse lines of short silken threads, not unlike railway sleepers, all over the surface of the glass. These are the 'foot-holds' of the caterpillar to enable it to move over the smooth surface of the glass. It does it so quickly that one can hardly see the placing of the threads."

from Life Stories of Australian Insects by Mabel N. Brewster, Agnes A. Brewster, and Naomi Crouch, Dymock's Book Arcade, Sydney, 1946

I left my pen by it and went out again two hours later to take further (and I hoped, better) pictures, but if there was any sign of it when I returned, I am illiterate. The case moth caterpillar had scarpered, taking its home with it.

For more about case moths, see my earlier post with pictures:
Case moth feelings and feltings


budak said...

i loathe photographers, these people who spend a fortune on technology, digital and far dirtier tricks to get their perfect portrait of a creature while displaying not a mite of curiosity about their subject beyond its ability to gain a pat on the back from fellow beasts.


anna tambour said...

Wow! I never guessed. Your examples are astounding. My eyes were only partly opened by that article I mentioned, but from what you say and your examples, this kind of photographer is an international pest. However, there is one improvement amongst photographers that I have noticed, and wonder if the same holds true for you. With the change to digital images, it is rare now to find film packaging glaring from scenic sites.

budak said...

a recent encounter with photographers spurred this: http://theasiamag.com/pictures/beauties-and-beasts-buloh-beyond-the-birds

anna tambour said...

What a beautiful post of yours, and such a gorgeous set of pictures. Your water monitor looks much like our monitors. Was it already in the water when you arrived, or did it slide in? Our "water dragons" generally dive in with an ungainly splash that is so loud that often, that's the only way to know they're around, as the bush is too tangled to see through it to a creek. I've often assumed that you have a whole kit of lenses and a fancy camera and walk around festooned with the stuff. Now I know you don't, which cheers me no end, and makes you be an example to others, of what they don't need, to get intimate pictures that are highly sensitive to their sitters. If it's not too intrusive to ask, what do you use? I ask this as a bumbling amateur. I'm reposting your url for the piece again below, so people can easily click on it and arrive. Beauties and Beasts: Buloh beyond the birds

budak said...

ya, the monitors are like the goannas you have in Australia. In that reserve, they largely ignore humans and roam in and out of the visitor centre.

I do have a set of lenses for taking photos of insects, birds and landscapes respectively, but find talking to photographers and about photography an absolute bore and so my walks are almost always with people who are foremost naturalists and photograph for the sake of knowledge and conservation than to build up a collection.

anna tambour said...

There are so many people watching and interacting where you are. Our monitors hardly ever see people here, and there are very few people who explore the bush, so it's years between times of coming across someone walking out here on some of these tracks--and on many tracks, never.

It would be funny to see people in the midst of nature talking about photography. I asked in all ignorance, and also because I've never discussed this with anyone, nor do I consider it fun, or interesting in itself. My big question is "Is he getting these pictures with something as basic as I have, or is he switching lenses and all that accompanies that?" It relates, ultimately, to unsureness over the pictures of things I show. I think that the things--animals, plants, various aspects of nature--are so interesting, that I've tried not to worry about the fact that they are often frustratingly fuzzy, for instance. So don't worry. I won't delve. I know what I need to know. That you don't do what you do without both technical knowledge that I have never disciplined myself to obtain, and you do use equipment that you took the trouble to learn how to use, but you see it as the tool that it is, not a fascinator in itself, in fact, quite the opposite. It's funny, too, that your patience is probably endless, as is mine when it comes to watching what interests you. This talking about photography as you describe makes me think of people who talk endlessly about "the writing process", as thrilling as a migraine.

PaulHD said...

Hello Anna,

I am very flattered by your comments regarding my post "Raindrops and Roses..." that ethical line is one that more and more people are speaking out about. Without a love and respect for nature I believe one's images will always be secondary. The four of us who share the Images From the Edge Blog (Niall, Andy, Clay and me) are pretty uncompromising and will speak out whenever we discover examples of transgression.

And on further comments relating to your blog - equipment helps but too many make a fetish of it and miss the shots. Later this year I will post a feature on an Italian friend who uses a Panasonic Lumix, small wooden tripod and gets images to die for. Why/how - he sees things because he is tuned into nature. His images are a celebration.

best regards


anna tambour said...

Don't feel flattered, just pushed. I am very eager to read your feature on that friend with a Lumix and wooden tripod--my own bumblings being with a Lumix FZ5, most often steadied by a stick or stone. And I didn't adequately state how much value your whole blog is, with entries by the four of you. A great combination of minds, experiences and images. Thank you for dropping in here. Because I do find you inspirational, I hope my appreciation makes you feel that you can never slacken and become just another prize-winning-photographer bum.