For today’s showcase we have a very special and honorable guest: Igor Siwanowicz, a.k.a. Blepharopsis. He is an absolutely amazing photographer and has a life-loving spirit.
This post will present 50 of the best photographs shot by him, along with an exclusive interview that he kindly honored us with and where he reveals not only some secrets about the beautiful art of photography, but also a short, interesting and inspiring biography.
His photos are absolute amazing and we will mix some of them into the interview… Answers continue below the photo…
Let’s get started!
Q: Hello and welcome to the Pxleyes community. Please tell us a few words about who Blepharopis is.
A: I was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1976, to a pair of biologists – I suppose it was the exposure to all the biology textbooks that shaped my interests early in life. Now when I think of it, my parents might have reinforced my tastes and interests through some reword system; I just hope it wasn’t intentional… So much for the freedom of choice.
Certain amount of the fascination in natural sciences might be encoded in the genes, and that was definitely passed on me from my parents, along with some artistic skills that just pop up in my family generation after generation.
Education-wise, I did my masters in biotechnology in Krakow and Aarhus, Denmark, followed by PhD in structural biochemistry in Germany. I “solved” some “structures” of certain proteins using x-ray crystallography – that involved observing matter at atomic-scale resolution. That’s wicked-cool when you think about it. After two years of post-doctoral studies, out of frustration of dealing with the same problems and techniques over and over again, I took one year hiatus from science. During this year I was posing as a travelling freelance nature photographer kind of person.
I conned some people into organizing my photography exhibitions, and some others into publishing two books. They totally bought it! That bestowed on me a deeply satisfactory feeling of accomplishment. Oh yea, and I’ve also travelled to Indonesia and Papua, and tried my hand at photojournalism. After this year I re-emerged on the scientific scene, this time as a lowly technical assistant in behavioural genetics at the Max-Planck Institute for Neurobiology in Munich, where I work today.
“Posing – You’re Doing It Ok”
“Blepharopsis” is a genus of a praying mantis; the name has a Greek origin: blepharon means “eyelid” and opsis, if I’m not mistaken, – “face”. So you see, it doesn’t make much sense at all! I don’t exactly remember my motivation for using it as a nick when I joined deviantART community, honestly, what was I thinking? Regardless, I’ll tell you who Blepharopsis is. Blepharopsis is a mad as a ferret, arrogant scientist roaming the Chernobyl ground zero area with a portable electron microscope in search of deformed chromosomal mutant disasters.
To take their mug shots, and deliver them to you in all their stomach-turning glory. At least that was my alter ego created for the needs of deviantART. But, being a lazy-ass procrastinator, I didn’t nurture it and my alter-ego slowly withered to become a meek nerd, good at photography though. Some of that arrogance remained too, you can probably notice that.
Q: When did you discover your passion and talent for photography and what does this type of art mean to you?
A: I grew up surrounded by illustrated biology/zoology textbooks, and that was my very first contact with nature photography. But it wasn’t until around spring 2003 when I bought my very first digital SLR camera, Canon 10D, along with a macro lens and a bunch of accessories that I found myself on the supply side of photography.
Full disclosure – doing something creative just keeps me (relatively) sane, it’s a sort of occupational therapy, a way to cope with the blues. I think I am slightly bipolar (as in manic-depressive), far from raving mad but still having those seasonal swings of mood and warped self-perception.
Taking photos, among other things, gives me satisfaction and keeps my mind off of obsessing too much. I use my accomplishments to re-build my self-esteem and move a small step towards self-actualisation. Surprisingly, the feedback
I’m receiving shows that my work opens people’s eyes on the aspects of our world they were not aware of, and that makes me sort of a public relations representative in service of creepy-crawlies. I’m far from making it my mission though.
Q: You chose to show the world a different perspective of living beings. Any special reason behind shooting insects?
A: I’m sure that landscape, bird and human models photographers are never asked to explain their choice of subject matter. In other words, taking pictures of, say, boobies doesn’t require elucidation. I do like taking portraits of small animals from their perspective.
They are foreign, otherworldly looking creatures – the closer you get to them, the stronger the effect. See, insects have those totally alien, Gigeresque forms that I find somehow fascinating.
“Fiddler on the Root”
I have to confess that I’m a bit deprived in my thinking – I take weird and bizarre as positive adjectives in creative medium.
My favourite models – praying mantids and other insects, reptiles, amphibians – usually meet fit the bill. Oh well – I think mantids are totally slick and sexy, and have style. That’s how (a bit) deprived I am…
“Walk This Way”
Q: Do you have any art projects going on at the moment?
A: At this very moment I’m into a new hobby – few months ago I started to design and make jewelery. For now I’m using brass as my material, but will soon progress to silver. Another project that keeps me busy right now is description of visual system and neuro-anatomy of jumping spiders.
I’m using a fancy optical system called scanning laser fluorescent microscope; it’s great to have a job that gives you an acces to a toy worth 100 K! The results so far are both visually captivating and informative, kid of an overlap of art and science.
I hope I’ll manage to publish this stuff too, even if that means sending it to Proceedings of National Academy of Bullshit…
I’m thinking – and collecting materials, but nothing more – about publishing a book devoted entirely to praying mantids, their place in tribal cultures and folk believes, art, a few interesting bits about their biology.
I’d need lots more motivation than I’m capable to generate to realize it though.
Q: Are there any fields in art that present a particular interest to you?
A: I always keep an eye out for strangely familiar fractal artworks. It’s a sort of art that quite well approximates states of consciousness eccessible upon ingestion of certain serotonine agonist of tryptamine nature.
I won’t elaborate on that though. I enjoy most kinds of art, naturally.
“Proud to be Horny”
Q: Do you use any image editing software after the shooting sessions? If so, what is that?
A: I shoot in RAW format, so the first step is to convert the files to TIFs, and tweak exposure and contrasts in the process. I’m using Lightroom and Photoshop; I don’t do too much editing though.
Q: What do you think that makes a photography “pop”?
A: It’s probably a combination of a contrast, composition and color that taps in just the right neurons to trigger the response of experiencing beauty/aesthetics. It’s really tough to say. I certainly have yet to figure out the principle.
“Insert Food Here”
Q: Any advice you’d like to give to young talents starting out in photography?
A: That question made me feel suddently old… Well, if they are “talents” they certainly don’t need my advice – digital camera gives you an immediate feedback; you can figure out the settings yourself in no time.
However, let me pop my knuckles and put my Photography Guru hat on. I’ll start with a general purpose if a bit pompous slogan: if you think it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Start with an image in your head and work your way towards it.
Improvise, modify and permutate along the way. Pay respect to your “models” and don’t expect much of a performance from them – animals are notoriously incorrigible uncooperative. Be patient, and never, ever try any dirty tricks that suppose to prevent them from moving and scurrying away.
It won’t hurt to educate yourself a bit as to animal’s biology and behavior – you will have a shade of idea what to expect from it, like for instance if it’s able to strike a spectacular threatening pose.
And now for some technical tips for dSLR users: take care to stabilize your camera – use a sturdy tripod, remote shutter relese and mirror lockup mode.
Never close the aperture all the way down, stopping at f/16 works for me fine; any higher than that and the blur resulting from diffraction on the pinhole starts to be a serious issue.
Then there is lighting, probably the most important factor to consider. When using a flashgun, disperse the light – use diffusers, such as BigBounce or UltraSoft from Lumiquest.
Aaaand good luck!