Unfolding Coleoptera

 

Oliver Weiller’s Unfolding Coleoptera series comprises monochrome images of individual beetles against a black background. The title refers to the process behind the images: the insects are first prepared, i.e. positioned with their wings fully extended. This unfolding is a time-intensive process that requires patience and care. Coleoptera is the scientific name1 for the order of insects comprising beetles. Their hard, leathery forewings, called elytra, lend the order its name:  Coleoptera (κολεόπτερα), combining the Greek words for sheath and wings.

Each image shows the entire insect – the mature specimen in its final life stage. They are reminiscent of zoological drawings, and of the works of Karl Blossfeldt2, a pioneer in artistic nature photography. At the same time, the backgrounds and lighting recall the aesthetics of professional product photography. The beetles’ outstretched wings catch the eye – the delicate, nearly transparent structure of the longer pair of hind wings contrasts with the beetles’ robust, often martial morphology.

Weiller consciously avoided a predefined procedure when selecting the beetles. A few specimens were found through serendipity; others through insect trading exchanges and breeders. The process of taking the images in the Unfolding Coleoptera series is time-intensive. Macro lenses have a very narrow depth of field, meaning it is necessary to take as many individual pictures as possible – in some cases, hundreds. These are subsequently edited with image-processing software to create a single, extremely detail-rich picture. In addition, the beetles’ natural hues are transformed into grayscale tones. Carefully chosen variations in brightness create unexpected opportunities to emphasise details in the beetles’ body structure.

The photographs show the animals’ morphology in stunning detail. The absence of the beetles’ natural colouration emphasises their physical forms. They hint at the complex environmental conditions and selection pressures the beetles have faced. And beetles have proven a unique success, colonising nearly all habitats on Earth. Over millions of years, evolution has produced – largely independent of human influence – a vast array of highly specialised organisms, characterised in particular by their adaptability. And while the extinction of thousands of species over time is a normal part of evolution, this rate is increasingly affected by human activity.

What remains astonishing, time and again, is a general phenomenon – one that is evidenced in the Unfolding Coleoptera series. Nature, even in the most remote environments, repeatedly produces forms and symmetries that are aesthetically fascinating to the human eye.

German text: Frank Zimmermann


1 The order comprising beetles (Coleoptera) is the largest in the world. This taxon includes over 350,000 described species – and it is estimated there are many more. Beetles vary in length from a few millimetres to fist-sized specimens such as the Hercules beetle. The lifecycle and behaviour of these animals remain poorly understood.  Each year, hundreds of new species are discovered. Many of these insects only live for a few weeks in their final stage of metamorphosis.

2 Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) is considered part of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement in photography. His books: Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature; 1928) and Wundergarten der Natur (1932) were major successes, bringing Blossfeldt international acclaim. In particular, he aimed to reveal the artistic-architectural character of nature – underscoring its extraordinary relevance for technology and culture.

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