Out of the dark night, moths fly towards the light.
‘Phototaxis’ describes an organism’s physical response to light, moving towards, or away from, a light source.
British moths are important pollinators and are also prey, supporting a range of wild animals, plants and food crops. There are 2500 species of moth in Britain. Moth populations have decreased 28% since 1968, up to 40% in southern Britain, and over 60 individual species have become extinct during the 20th century. This decline is due to a range of factors including pesticide use, habitat loss, climate change, and light pollution.
I have used the traditional photographic technique, cyanotype, to highlight the absence of moths in our night skies, being keen to examine how elements of a photographic process can become integral to the meaning of the work and act as metaphor.
The cyanotype process refers back to the work of Anna Atkins who was taught the process by its inventor Sir John Herschel. She made a scientific study of British seaweed and plants, which she published in a series of beautiful blue books, releasing the first in 1843. In many cultures, including our own, the colour blue is rich in representational meaning: the forbidden, things confined to the dark night, heaven, death and the infinite. Moths can see further into the blue end of the spectrum than humans and are particularly attracted to white/blue light.
In French the word for bruise is also the word for blue: bleu.
Cyanotypes are contact prints; the direct contact made between the moth and the paper is essential to this process. The moths were there during the exposure, and now only their shadows remain. This sharp reminder of their absence directly references their disappearance from our night skies.