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  Field Notes From
Uncommon Vision

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On Assignment
View Field Notes
From Author

Lynne Warren

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photograph by Brian Strauss

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Uncommon Vision

Field Notes From Author
Lynne Warren
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Remember the theme song to the TV series Cheers? “You want to go where everybody knows your name.” Collecting moths with Joseph Scheer and Mark Klingensmith reminded me of that. Standing by a brightly lit white sheet in Mark’s yard was like being at a neighborhood bar—only the “regulars” were moths. These two guys have spent so much time collecting, preparing, and photographing moths over the past few years that they’re intimately familiar with their local species. They know which moths are likely to show up in what kind of weather, how the phase of the moon affects who’s likely to fly by, and which blooming plants will attract mothy attention. Occasionally an unfamiliar moth appears, and—just like at the neighborhood hang-out—the excitement produces a “buzz” of conversation about the newcomer—What’s the species? What family does it belong to? Will we see more examples? Hours passed, the moon dropped, and my knees got stiff, but the constantly shifting show on that white sheet never got boring.

This assignment caused just one frustration: Our magazine isn’t three by four feet (one by one meter), and we don’t print our millions of copies on fine art paper. As striking as Joseph’s moth images look in the glossy pages of National Geographic, I’d love to show our readers his prints at full size, the way they’re created for exhibition. The sense of depth and texture is just overwhelming in the originals. It’s almost impossible to stop yourself from petting the moths on the page. Joseph sent a group of his early prints to China, where they were exhibited without any glass or plastic coverings. By the time the exhibit was taken down, the prints had been completely destroyed by people reaching out and running their fingers over the moths, totally captivated by the three-dimensional illusion. I wish we could give all our readers that experience.

The last day I was with Joseph in his studio, he pulled out a thick stack of prints and started searching through the pile, looking for a moth we had seen outside the night before—a big hairy creature in tones of cream and black and taupe. Each moth he flipped past was lovelier and less expected than the one before. Then he came to a sheet of paper that looked like some kind of elaborately printed cloth—a Liberty of London cotton or a very ornate Oriental carpet. It was all iridescent blue-green and glossy black, really gorgeous. Then I looked more closely and realized that I was looking at a huge mass of flies. Flies. You know, the nasty bugs that hang out around Dumpsters and crawl all over your picnic if you give them the chance? Yep. Those. EEEeeeeeeuuuuuwwwww!

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