American photographer Emmet Gowin (born 1941) is best known for his portraits of his wife, Edith, and their family, as well as for his images documenting the impact of human activity upon landscapes around the world. For the past fifteen years, he has been engaged in an equally profound project on a different scale, capturing the exquisite beauty of more than one thousand species of nocturnal moths in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, French Guiana, and Panama.
These stunning color portraits present the insects – many of which may never have been photographed as living specimens before, and some of which may not be seen again – arrayed in typologies of twenty-five per sheet. The moths are photographed alive, in natural positions and postures, and set against a variety of backgrounds taken from the natural world and images from art history.
Throughout Gowin's distinguished career, his work has addressed urgent concerns. The arresting images of Mariposas Nocturnas extend this reach, as Gowin fosters awareness for a part of nature that is generally left unobserved and calls for a greater awareness of the biodiversity and value of the tropics as a universally shared natural treasure. An essay by Gowin provides a fascinating personal history of his work with biologists and introduces both the photographic and philosophical processes behind this extraordinary project.
Essential reading for audiences both in photography and natural history, this lavishly illustrated volume reminds readers that, as Terry Tempest Williams writes in her foreword, "The world is saturated with loveliness, inhabited by others far more adept at living with uncertainty than we are."
Emmet Gowin is emeritus professor of photography at Princeton University. His many books include Emmet Gowin and Changing the Earth. His photographs are in collections around the world, including at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Tokyo Museum of Art.
Terry Tempest Williams is an author, conservationist, and activist. Her books include The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks and Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place.
"[...] This book will appeal to two sorts of people. Firstly those who just wish to appreciate the beauty of the species illustrated and the artistic merit of the photographs and text. The moths are truly beautiful and will amaze anyone who hasn't visited the tropics. The second group are those who want help with identifying moths photographed on journeys into the neotropics. For the latter group, the book could be so much more usefull if the photographs were in some sort of taxonomic order rather than randomly dislayed, and if there was an indication of their size. However, the book is still very useful. Like many other people, I have thousands of photos of moths taken around tourist lodges in the Neotropics, but most remain unnamed on my computer. Gowin has to be commended for identifying his pictures and for assembling them into a very nicely produced book which meets his objectives of capturing the beauty and diversity of these moths."
– Alan Martin, Atropos 60, 2017
"Alive, in color and against assorted backdrops from art history, Mr. Gowin's moths portray an acceptance of uncertainty in scientific discovery, the creative process and life more generally. They also present an exchange of beauty, a childlike curiosity and an appreciation for the hidden ties between humans and moths."
– JoAnna Klein, New York Times
"Moths fly by night and Gowin's project is, at its heart, about drawing his jewels out of the shadows. In this sense, Mariposas Nocturnas returns full circle to the invention of photography itself."
– Andrea K. Scott, New Yorker
"Mariposas Nocturnas is an object of beauty and a document of inestimable value. The late-career transformation of one of the most visionary artists of our time is movingly manifested in this extraordinary book."
– Joel Smith, Morgan Library & Museum