Photographer's book shows bugs, close-up and cute

July 21, 1996|By Joan Jackson | Joan Jackson,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

You won't find Robin Kittrell Laughlin listed among the great entomologists of the world. And that's too bad, because the great entomologists of the world might enjoy her gentle view of the littlest creatures among us.

Laughlin, a New Mexico photographer, has come up with a charming book called "Backyard Bugs" (Chronicle Books, $12.95). It's got a little bit of everything -- science, nature, gardens, whimsy. There are 40 close-up portraits of ordinary things gardeners find in their yards, such as pill bugs and ants, as well as exotic-looking dragonflies, tiny orange mites and green-fanged spiders.

With patience -- and a good close-up lens -- Laughlin captured kaleidoscopic colors, fascinating details and amazing facial expressions of these underappreci- ated little creatures.

"I've never met a bug I didn't like," said Laughlin. "I met some that weren't so photogenic, though." All the bugs got a new lease on life after their time before the camera. "I released all of them after photographing them. I did give the fiery scorcher to a bug collector, since the bug was from Texas and should not have been released in New Mexico anyway. And I did not release the regal moth caterpillar, as it was lent to me by a man who raises them, and they are not native to New Mexico either," she said.

ZTC While the photographs are fascinating, the real treat is Laughlin's text. Her simple stories about how she found, photographed and released her subjects are precious.

Some highlights:

Swift long-winged skimmer dragonfly. "It was circling a roadside pond in southern New Mexico. This species is found throughout North America and eats small insects. Its body was 1 1/2 inches long. He was friendly and cooperative, always quick with a smile. took me five minutes to do his portrait. He was not fussy or vain about his hair."

Tomato hornworm caterpillar. "He is a member of the sphinx moth family. I wanted to keep him and watch his development until he turned into the next thing, but he was a messy houseguest. I turned him loose on my very own plants, in gratitude for his portrait."

How do you get these things to sit still long enough for a portrait?

Laughlin says she put her captured subjects into the refrigerator not the freezer) and the chilly experience slowed them down long enough for her to snap her shots.

"The quick chill was the most efficient noninvasive means of getting the bugs to pose, since it was of paramount importance to me to shoot live portraits. How else could their personalities manifest themselves?" she said. "Some bugs, like the praying mantis, posed all day long, and we had long conversations."

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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