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    Friday, June 09, 2023

    Big shots: Photographs at Lyman Allyn take a close-up look at insects

    Bob Sober, “Lanternfly (Genus species unidentified) Thailand,” 2015, digital image printed on aluminum, 30x60 inches
    Bob Sober, “Scareb Beetle (Heterorrhina macleayi) green,” 2015, digital image printed on aluminum, 36x24 inches
    Bob Sober, “Weevil (Eupholus magnificus) Indonesia,” 2013, digital image printed on aluminum, 80x40 inches

    When you walk upstairs to the second floor of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum right now, you’ll spy gigantic photos of insects on the walls — insects shimmering with intense hues, every detail shown in high-def precision.

    The weevil from Indonesia is a symphony of cobalt and aqua.

    The cottonwood borer from the U.S. boasts what looks like an abstract version of zebra stripes, and the creature has two huge antenna that gracefully curve away from its head.

    The red nose clown lanternfly from Malaysia does, as the name would suggest, have a red nose, as well as delicate designs on its beige and light blue/brown wings.

    A trio of frog-legged beetles from Thailand are showcased in individual photos; each beetle is a different color, all bright and shiny — one blue, one green and one red.

    These images are the work of visual artist Bob Sober. When the Lyman Allyn states that the exhibition, “Small Wonders: Insects in Focus,” “offers a series of 30 images that bring the natural world to a scale rarely experienced until now,” it’s not an exaggeration.

    Sober uses new technology to get this kind of up-close and vibrant view of these creatures.

    In the exhibition wall text, Wyatt Hoback, assistant professor of entomology and plant pathology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, says that insects are the most diverse organism on Earth, with an estimated 12 million kinds.

    “The detailed textures and color patterns of most insects cannot be captured with traditional methods of photography,” Hoback states. Magnified single-shot photographs lose detail “in areas outside of the narrow photographic depth of field.”

    Sober, on the other hand, takes hundreds — and sometimes thousands— of photos of a single insect. He then stacks them into a digital composite image.

    “Small Wonders” is organized by ExhibitsUSA.

    Marvel of engineering

    In a phone interview from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he lives, Sober says of insects, “I think they’re a marvel of engineering. As an architect (Sober’s profession before retiring), it’s all a combination of art and engineering and making things work.”

    After retirement, Sober started painting, but he wanted to do something that didn’t take as long. His son sent him some macro images of insects, and Sober decided to try his hand at that.

    “Once I started getting into it, I kind of dug in really deep on the macro photography. I tried doing several different processes and was reading about magnifications and trying lighting set-ups and all these things. What I really discovered is that there wasn’t much out there on how to do any of this stuff,” he says.

    When Sober attended a major entomology conference in Florida, he met people who were good sources and gave him information he hadn’t had before, including about lenses that are best to use.

    Here is his process, in a much-simplified description: Sober takes a photo of an insect, then moves the lens a tiny bit closer, takes another photo, and so on. He does this about 100 times, and the result is what he calls a “stack” of photos that capture the depth of the insect in sharp focus. He creates multiple “stacks” of photos.

    He then uses a telecentric lens to snap images by moving the camera sideways.

    Sober uses a panorama application to “stitch” the stacks of photos together. He edits those using a photo editing application like Photoshop.

    Here’s a recent example of his work: Sober did a portrait of a monarch butterfly, and he took about 10,000 photos to create the final image.

    In that image, he says, “you can see all of the little scales on the wings. They have long hairs on the body that lay right next to the wings. It’s really beautiful.” And he made the final photograph about 20 feet by 15 feet, “so you can see things that you couldn’t see otherwise.”

    Getting the insects

    How does Sober get these insects?

    “There’s a whole huge insect world out there. There are people that import insects from all over the world,” he says.

    The insects are dead and have to be, in order for them to be imported, according to U.S. regulations. Sober gives an example of why: live spotted lantern flies reportedly came into the U.S. on landscaping material, and they have wreaked havoc since.

    Of course, dead insects are also easier to photograph, although Sober has snapped a few that were alive. He found a fly he thought was dead but wasn’t. His son suggested putting the fly into a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a couple of hours; the insect would think it was winter and would start hibernating. Sober did that and, after taking the fly out of the bag, got three full sets of images before the fly had warmed up enough to wing his way off.

    Seeing insects differently

    Sober says he hopes the exhibition of his photos spawns curiosity in people and inspires them to start relating differently to insects than if it were crawling on the ground.

    If you go

    What: “Small Wonders: Insects in Focus”

    Where: Lyman Allyn Art Museum, 625 Williams St., New London

    When: Through July 23; hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and 1-5 p.m. Sun.; closed Mondays and major holidays

    Admission: $12 for adults, $9 seniors, $5 students, $7 active military personnel, and free for kids under 12, members and New London residents

    Contact: (860) 443-2545, lymanallyn.org

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