More than seven decades have passed since my relationship with insects began. Much of that time was spent in nature photography—specifically, in taking photographs of butterflies in their natural setting. Pursuing and capturing their images in the wild was an invaluable experience. The purpose of insect nature photography is to capture vibrant images of insects as they go about their daily affairs; for me, it also entails the joy of doing detective work using my knowledge of nature. For instance, if I know that a particular butterfly species tends to fly downstream along a river and I can see flowers it likes nearby, I know I can just wait there. Or, if I see plants its larvae like to feed on in a different area, I can decide to wait there instead. In this way, I can enjoy communing with nature.
My sense of the word “micropresence” stems from these experiences. It entails calling attention to the existence of minute life forms that are present in our quotidian environment but are imperceptible to the naked eye. Micro Presence accomplishes this by rendering visible their microscopic forms.
The 20thcentury has been characterized as an era during which virtual realms expanded, as exemplified by the rise of the Internet. Alternatively, it has been argued that the real significance of this period was the expansion of our physical reality. We as a species furthered our investigation of the physical realm and made notable accomplishments at both extremes of scale in terms of size: at the microscopic scale, we advanced our knowledge of atomic and sub-atomic particles and discovered DNA; at the macroscopic scale, we began to unravel the secrets behind the birth of the universe and put man on the Moon.
These achievements were accompanied by advancements in our ability to make visual representations. If we were to categorize the physical realm into the perceptible and imperceptible.
We will look at this in the categories of “visible” and “invisible”. It has been the purview of science to investigate the invisible, to develop hardware and software in order to visualize a world that lies outside of our normal perception and bring it to our attention.
But, what of the inhabitants existing between those extremes? Not everyone sees them, either. Unless they appear right before our eyes, we cannot acknowledge their presence. Suppose you are looking out on your own garden. Your sight can register the presence of trees, flowering shrubs and so forth, but you cannot see what lies in their shadow or what lies beyond the garden walls. If you look up, you may see birds and airplanes, but more often than not, you cannot tell what type of bird or plane you are looking at. Our powers of perception are much more limited than we would like to believe—beyond the layer of information immediately accessible to our senses lies much, much more.
In addition, there are many things that are technically visible and yet are not perceived. The five human senses do not operate properly unless their inputs are acknowledged by the mind. For all intents and purposes, what goes unacknowledged may as well not exist. On occasion, we may choose to stroll along a familiar path while enjoying the change of seasons, but we probably pay no heed to our surroundings most of the time as we rush through them on our way to work or are lost in thought. It is not unusual for us to see and yet not really see what is around us.
Kojiki, or TheRecord of Ancient Matters, is said to mention, “The trees and grasses spoke in their own language such that throughout the land, rocks, trees, and blades of grass spoke to each other. Eerie flames appeared at night, and the whir of insect wings filled the air with lively chatter during the day.“[i] It aligns with one of the central tenets of animism: everything around us possesses a soul and communicates with each other. Japan has been host to a countless gods since antiquity. While there exist Shinto shrines that deify specific persons, Shintoism is based on an animistic philosophy that stems from a deeply held reverence for nature. The same reverence may still be shared among the Japanese people today.
Anthropologist Keiji Iwata distinguishes animistic deities from the God of monotheistic religions (denoted by the ideogram神, pronounced kami) by using the term kami(denoted syllabically by katakananotation). According to Iwata, kamiexist all around us in mountains and rivers, in flora and fauna, and suddenly appear before us from the midst of nature. If we are to encounter them, we must hold on to our primal connection to nature and what the kamiafford us, a window on the universe. Therein also lies the key to rethinking our relationship with nature.[ii]
Although Japan has been said to lack its own religion or that Japanese are not religious, I wonder if there are many other nations where its people possess a shared sensitivity or awareness of kami. As aneconomically developed and technologically advanced nation, Japan is rare in that regard. In the 21stcentury, there is no doubt that mankind will be forced to rethink its relationship with nature. Along with economic power, technological prowess, and a shared appreciation for kami, if everyone can strive to look through the kami’s “window on the universe,” I believe we can make a difference in the most pressing issues in this century. I would like to provide this window, a window that will enable us to understand and become keenly aware of nature.
As a means of accomplishing this goal, I have long thought of a good way to communicate the joy and mystery of nature. The insects I see in nature are beautiful, but their quick movements make it difficult to observe them at leisure. Nature photographs allow me to mitigate that drawback. In a way, these can open windows.
There is also another type of insect photography called specimen photography. Until recently, specimen photography had the express purpose of facilitating insect identification. To capture the images of as many species as possible, specimen photographs tended to minimize the space occupied by individual insects. Each insect is exquisite and precise like a work of art, a masterpiece of nature. I had the idea that if I could communicate its awesome beauty through photography, the images could serve as another type of window in a way different from nature photography. I thus shifted my focus from nature photography and began working at capturing the form of insects as accurately as possible.
However, even the tiniest insect presented an immense obstacle. Due to the focal depth necessary to photograph each insect, only one area could be in focus in any given image. It prevented me from capturing an accurate representation of the insects’ form in its entirety. It then occurred to me that I could create a composite of all the individual parts that were in focus by using a computer. It was in this way that the micro-photo collage method came into being. This work is a collection of these digital composite images.