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A Bug's Eye View: Digging Into Reverence

“My work is a tribute to insects, to their intelligence, personality and elegant beauty.”

No stranger to going where her projects take her, Zana Briski isn’t afraid to let the world tell its own story. In many ways, she is merely a vessel for the public to see what is, to put it simply, happening all around them. Her Academy Award-winning film Born into Brothels found Briski documenting the little known realities of Calcutta’s infamous red light district, highlighting societal issues in India, while acting like a mere fly on the wall. Her latest work, Reverence, follows in a similar objective documentary, yet takes the fly on the wall element almost literally.

Reverence is a multi-dimensional study of the Praying Mantis, one neither bound by medium, nor distance. Briski’s initial impetus for the project came in her sleep.

Seven years ago, I began to have intense dreams of a praying mantis. Though I have always had a very strong connection to the animal world, I had no idea what this was about. I began to pay attention to the synchronicities and clues and soon enough I was following the path that Mantis had set for me.

So much so that Briski was “led around the world, mostly camping alone in spectacular wild places — from Namibia to Botswana, to Panama, to Malaysia, to Bolivia, to Australia” in an attempt to communicate with the infamous insects, while studying them in their natural habitat. She did this by inviting the bug’s into her studio, often a tent, or camper, to photograph their intricate extremities, while studying their unique perspective of the world.

In some ways Reverence feels like an extension of Briski’s Kids with Cameras project, which provides children in India with cameras to document their lives. However, in the case of Reverence, it’s almost as if the Mantis are photographing themselves, through their own bug eyed lenses. Of course they aren’t, which is a major testament to Briski’s talent as a photographer. (She learned how to operate macro-photographic equipment specifically for this project.) Often her work finds her up all night shooting extreme closeups of bugs in high-definition, focusing on every minute movement, from wing flickr to eye bulge.

What is so remarkable about the video and photographs Briski has taken is how non-invasive they are. There is a clear respect for the insects, one which finds Briski “[thanking] them and [putting] them back where I found them.” As she puts it, “it is a true collaboration based on love and respect.” Briski’s extensive work documenting the Mantis is set to become “a migratory museum — a temporary structure inspired by the exquisite shape of praying mantis ootheca, or egged” (pictured above). Help make Reverence a reality here.

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