Published: June 2011

Photo Journal

Green Mambas Mocafico

Serpent Still Lifes

Photographs and text by Guido Mocafico

The first time I photographed a snake up close, I nearly fainted. I'd always found them terrifying, but also fascinating—an attraction-repulsion I think most people experience when they encounter beautiful animals that creep or crawl. My goal with this series is to explore that intersection of human emotions.

I started out doing commercial work, but I wanted more control. Still-life shoots led to a project on venom, and that's what got me here. Now herpetologists, museums, and shops furnish me with snakes in all colors, textures, and dimensions. They also provide invaluable expertise. When eight easily riled cobras got loose, I knew not to budge.

Each photography session takes about 45 minutes. The expert corrals the snakes into a cloth-lined, clear plastic-sided box. Then I stand two feet away, pull back the top, point my camera—I still prefer the look of film—and wait for patterns and curves to emerge.

This series has been good therapy and education for me: I can handle snakes now and have learned a lot about different species. But I've learned most by watching people react to these images. Their fear and desire reveals something primal about our species.

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