Nine times out of ten you should trust those in the latter category.
An exception can perhaps be made for Christopher Marley. He takes photos of dead insects and, while they are beautiful and mesmerising, there is clearly some explaining to be done.
Marley is rather fond of grandiose sentences. We are told that the impetus behind his work is placing anarchic insects into structures of symmetry: into clean, architectural and balanced designs. In other words, he lines everything up with precision and, to be fair, the images can look like jewel boxes.
He also wants to explore the conflicts that define our artistic gaze: it can be about diversity (lots of different bugs), repetition (members of the same insect species many times), subtle variation (related species in the same shot), or uniqueness (an insect so weird that it warrants a stand-alone performance).
Remove the insect-factor and these are credible and perennial themes in art history that, against expectation, apply to Marley’s work. His pictures provoke meaningful thought about the purpose and goals of the artistic process. There is no digital enhancement in his images and the mind-bending colours are all real.
A much larger creature, namely an elephant, inevitably enters the room. Is it okay to collect insects for the purposes of creating art? Marley assures us that contemporary ecological opinion gives a thumbs up. Taking a few samples is not going to destroy a population and, even better, the economic advantages that accrue from welcoming collectors can apparently do wonders for the preservation of habitats. I suppose it depends on the specific locale so all I can say for certain is that Marley’s images are impressive. Still, I much prefer pictures of buzzing, flapping, free-wheeling insects that are still alive.
PHEROMONE: The Insect Artwork of Christopher, Pomegranate, $75 (hardback)
This story was published in the April 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine