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Where does inspiration come from? Levon Biss found it while looking at beetles from his garden. He’d bought a microscope for his son. For fun, they placed a beetle under the lens. “It was just stunningly beautiful,” Biss told TIME for Kids. He wondered if he could capture that beauty in a photograph.
Biss had been making a career taking photographs for advertisements. But insects gave him a new direction. Around the world, insect populations are in decline because of pesticides, habitat loss, and climate change. Biss thought that if people could see what he saw through his son’s microscope, they would care more about protecting insects. “I’ve got a photographic technique and a skill that needs to be utilized,” he says. “I should use them for a better purpose.”
Eye for Detail
Biss turned to macrophotography: taking close-up pictures of small things, like flowers or bugs. His work has attracted attention not just for its unusual beauty. It also raises awareness about the need for conservation.
In 2016, Biss showed his first insect project, Microsculpture. The term refers to the features of an insect’s exoskeleton, or outer shell, which develops over time as the bug adapts to its environment.
Biss’s pictures capture the insects in all their wonderful, microscopic detail. Then he blows the images up until the insects are larger than life, some of them eight feet tall.
Each image takes weeks to make. Biss uses a digital camera with a microscope lens. The camera is mounted on a computerized rail. This allows Biss to take a shot, then move the camera by seven microns—a distance equal to about 1/10 the thickness of a human hair— for the next shot. In the end, Biss might take 10,000 shots of a bug. A computer puts this jigsaw puzzle together into a single image.
Shaking it Up
Biss’s latest exhibition is Extinct and Endangered, at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City. With the help of the museum’s scientists and curators, he selected bugs that were extinct or endangered.
“It’s a humbling experience, when you’re holding an insect that’s extinct,” Biss says. “It’s sad to know it will never be on this planet again.”
Biss hopes his photographs will get people thinking the same way. “The way I work is through pictures,” he says. “I communicate visually. Hopefully, these pictures can shake things up and get people to pay attention.”