It was a dark and windy night when I heard a strong, insistent tapping against the window. Sounds like it could be the beginning of a horror movie. But where I live, its only precious beautiful creatures that disturb me and in fact they don’t disturb me at all, even the biggest hairiest spiders and the most venomous snakes. Creature nature is not cruel or vindictive, just self protective.

I went to investigate the window tapping and found an enormous furry pink orange bodied moth desperately wanting to enter into the light of the kitchen but the clear glass was the invisible obstacle. It was hitting the window with such force and its attempts were increasing and becoming more and more frantic, it even became a bit frightening, I had to remind myself I was looking out from the safe inside. When the moth remained still for a brief moment, I could see that its wings were completely ravaged, they were hanging off in tatters. It was like someone had taken a knife to a kite and gashed it up into uneven strips. The kite would be able to fly for a bit but the crash was inevitable. This moth was hitting the window with such vehement, violent life force, death could only be hovering nearby.

I considered for a moment opening the window and letting the battered moth in. But then i remembered from past experience that one has a kamikaze missile the size and force of a small bird inside one’s house. It is unsettling, and disturbing. I turned off the kitchen light to give the moth some rest in preparation for its journey into the spirit world. I made a mental note though, to go and find the moth in the daytime, I doubted it would stray far from the window, the night was too icy and windy.

The following day I remembered to search for the moth and found it clinging to the wall beneath the window, with its shredded wings. What a body it had, furry pinkish orange with dark yellow feelers. It had big black purple balls of eyes, that seemed to unflinchingly look into me ogling its form and wishing for it imminent demise.

A small perfectionist part of me was disappointed that such a fine specimen had ruined its own exquisite wings (the confusion of artificial light being the other culprit) . The bigger, deeper part of me knew the moth was perfect. The ravages of time and life having torn its wings ragged. A potent, if mournful symbol.

I forgot about the moth and it didn’t flap at the window again. The following day on my way to my vegetable garden, I saw the moth on its back on the grass. I picked it up hoping that the panther cat wasn’t responsible for this death, in particular because he damages the form in the process. The moth appeared perfectly intact. It was such a gift. Usually i only find the moths after a few days and by then dust, hairs and spiderwebs are stuck to their bodies and feelers like velcro and they can only be removed virtually in photoshop.

I immediately set about organising the moth into a pose in order to create a good photograph. I arrange the legs, the feelers, the wings by pinning them in position on cardboard. I never pierce the form with the pins, as one can see the holes in the close up photography. I managed to get the moths legs closer to its chest and get the feelers to lie flat. One of its lower legs had already gone into rigor mortis and was almost impossible to change its angle. Moths are also very hard to work with because the more you touch them the more they loose their beautiful metallic, glowing dust on their wings and the hairs of their body.

I was about to put the pinned down moth in the fridge, when i accidentally brushed the extremity of its abdomen with a pin and its abdomen moved. It had two flap like appendages at the bottom of its body and these two flaps opened when touched and then slowly relaxed back together again when left alone. A creeping sense of horror overcame me. Had i pinned down an alive moth? I touched other parts of the moth, the legs, the feelers, the wings, it didn’t stir. But every time i touched the lower abdomen, it creepily responded.

I put the moth in the fridge, hoping that the cold would bring about its final passing. I have heard dying from cold makes one pass peacefully by falling asleep and never waking up again.

It became my daily routine to see if the moth abdomen had stopped moving when i touched it. Each day it contracted to the touch, without any other part of the moth having moved. It was pinned down but in a way that it could have moved a leg a wing a feeler if it wanted to.

Finally after five days, i touched the moth abdomen and it felt hard and crunchy to the pin touch and there was no movement.

What an extended death, perhaps made all the more torturous by me. I tried to google about how long it takes for a moth to die. Why would its abdomen continue to move like that? I thought perhaps it might have been female and that the abdomen would move to expel eggs even after body death. But no such eggs emerged. This remains a mystery to me. One of the many mysteries I encounter on a daily basis in my interaction with insects animals and plants.

The moth holds deep symbolic significance for me personally. It feels like a mythological representation of the soul for the insistent way it persists on going to the light, even if self destructs and immolates on the flame or heat of the light. Is not release from the body a prerequisite for completely merging with the light? And what a bodily life a moth has, born as a juicy terrestrial worm only to dissolve itself into a magnificent winged creature of the air.

Here I have been playing with different compositions.



reality is a personal and collective story

Oliver Roberts,  Senior Features Writer Sunday Times, came to visit and to interview me about my work. Jackie Ruth Murray, photographer, filmmaker, curator and friend made the connection between us when she contacted various different media sources to publicise my beyond Beyond exhibition which she curated.
From our very first communication with each other, I felt a level of comfort with Oliver. I can’t say what it was, his informal way of communicating, his level of interest and a straightforwardness, his gentle ability to enter into your world? He was unable to publicise the exhibition because he explained that he likes to meet up with people personally and get a sense of them and their lives. What a relief in this virtually mediated world, the documentary filmmaker in me really was liking him more and more. Then I read a few of his articles and got a sense of the very visceral way he approached an interview and felt truly honoured that he had an interest in me as a creative being, besides the fact that he had written about the great of the greats like William Kentridge.
Then one day after a certain amount of backwards and forwards e-mailing, Oliver made the long journey to come and visit me in the middle of nowhere.  We got on like old friends and nattered for an afternoon, a night and the following morning (don’t read anything in here, its a long way to drive and one needs to overnight). It was a great honour to be seen in such an in depth way going a long way to heal my invisibility wound. He reminded me a lot of my intense documentary filmmaker self.
Now I pity him as he has to go away and makes sense of all my blah blah blah. But I also feel rather nervous as to what will emerge … did I reveal too much … I wonder what details he will put in and what he will leave out as he constructs the story? It’s a familiar process to me from the documentary edit space – where a story is created and presented like reality but is really just a story.
Then I remind myself to let it all go, not be too attached to my image, to my story, it’s all  concocted anyway,  what I chose to reveal, the language and concepts I chose to clothe the revelations in, even the notion of a self is constructed.
In truth I felt I made a friend from another part of South Africa from a different generation who lives a different life. He also loves animals and creatures and is imaged here in empathic interaction with the donkey family on the farm, father Pablo, mother Ariel and child Puck.
As I await the revelation of my “self” through another’s eyes, (print journalists will not let you see the article before publication), there is some aspect of what I call “me” who is watching from a distance with just a hint of a smile as I wriggle like a worm that has been taken out of the earth and placed under a bright light.
reality is a personal and collective story

candy striped orange pink flushed alien

I first encountered the magical moth when there was an unusual electrical storm in the Cape. Usually we don’t see lightning like that or hear the rumble of thunder. I was working late as usual creating light in the darkness and thats when I saw them, white beauties with pink blushes on their wings flapping against the closed window. Wow what incredible moths, I had never seen anything like it before and there were about 5 of them flapping seemingly desperate to come in. I opened the top part of the window and one flew in. That was all I needed, I would wait for it to reach the end of its natural life and then I could examine it from closer up. But somehow that moth mysteriously disappeared and I never saw it again. I began to wonder if I had hallucinated the pink flushed moths. Perhaps they were figment of an electrically charged brain. Many months later I discovered a white and pink moth again. This time I was not going to let it out of my sight. I created a motharium complete with flowers and a dark corner to hide in. I read that moths don’t like daylight and direct sun can kill some of them. And so my pinky moth lived in comfort although be it in seclusion for the last days of its life.

And here is the beauty, although the pink is more orange. Partly the loss of vibrance in death, partly the type of lights I use.

IMG_9896I took 70 photos of this moth in a night. I have to fall completely in love with everything that i photograph and this makes me want to see it from every possible angle with every possible lighting angle because each change presents something new. I am in search of the essence of a being, even in its dead state, there is something so unique to that creature in its form. This is what i explore and never know what it is until i see it in the camera’s digital viewfinder, glowing in the dark, late at night.

IMG_9961-EditI am always surprised as we miss so much with the naked eye. Look at this moths striped pippi langkous legs. Its candy striped body, so bizarre, so magnificent, so unexpected.


Insects are the original aliens.

candy striped orange pink flushed alien

bizarre sweetness and harmony

I was gifted this beautiful bumblebee. All summer i searched for one – but a no dead bee came my way. For the kind of photographs i create – my creatures need to be dead – as they need to be still at night while i shine light on them – and no living creature can manage that. Light activates all animals, especially if you shine it in their eyes unexpectedly at night. I never kill anything but just hope that creatures will offer themselves to me – and leave their bodies in places where i can find them. No beautiful bee in the summer but bee came to me in the winter in a little matchbox. It was found on the farm here by my friend’s mother, she found it dead in the garden.

Everyone in the area knows that i am the mecca of all things dead. Roadkill miraculously finds its way to me – sometimes by the very person who accidentally killed the creature, feels bad about it and knows that i will honour the life of the animal in image. So too am i the magnet for all interesting insects. When i came to image bumblebee, she presented so many surprises.

Macro photography opens up worlds within in worlds and the world of insects is truly delightful and bizarre once one gets close up. Jewel eyes shine brightly, spiny backs, and hairy legs abound, tongues are long, antennae bristle and patterned wings shimmer.

I play at being the creator – re-animating the inert life in front of my camera, coaxing the forms of life out in light.

So here i present to you the dearest most dazzling, bizarre bumble bee. I honour you creature who fertilises our world. May we learn to treasure you, you who brings sweetness and harmony, long may you lick, suck and rub yourself against flowers.


bizarre sweetness and harmony