Butterflies flittering in the sun may be the ultimate affirmation of Spring’s arrival. However, photographer David Stesner‘s fascination with these beautiful insects began when he saw them preserved in a museum.
“I saw how beautiful these creatures are and I was just enamored,” he recalls. “I photographed them through the glass (display) at the Museum of Natural History.” And when he returned to his Manhattan studio, the art started. “I just find them beautiful,” he says. And he adds to the butterflies’ natural beauty by rearranging, composing and enhancing the insects’ colors in his images.
“That first image I manipulated was raw,” he recalls. But the skill and talent he’s developed as a fashion photographer soon overshadowed the process and now, five years later, he creates huge, lovely, mesmerizing photographic works of butterflies.
“I’ve gotten a lot of comments about how unique my work is,” he says. “But I was taking what was real to me and adding a bit of surrealism.” Stesner uses preserved butterflies from throughout the world, ordering them online, or buying them directly from a supply store in Manhattan. Once in the studio they are rehydrated, and he spreads them to the proper shape for photographing.
“It’s quite tedious – the appendages are very delicate and the dust on the wings is very delicate,” he explains. “Just one fingerprint will remove their whole luster and sheen.”
Many completed images are almost kaleidoscopic, multiplying the butterflies so, at first glance, it appears as simply shapes and colors, but closer observation reveals the lovely creatures. And the huge prints are not just dramatic. They also act as a magnifying lens, as if viewers were looking through a microscope at these delicate creatures.
The photos have become popular with interior designers and the few that have been offered for charity auctions have been well-received.
“This was a big leap for me – to do these very colorful photographs,” says Stesner. “I think monochromatically.” Indeed, his fashion and portrait photography is stark, minimalist and classical. His latest endeavor, Butterfly Project 6, juxtaposes realism with surrealism and some motion. It resulted in a well-received solo show last November in Chelsea and Stesner is hoping to attend Art Basel next year. He is in the process of seeking exclusive gallery representation.
He admits one of the biggest changes is not just delving into a new style of photography, but that the butterfly series challenges him personally, as well as professionally.
Indeed, when he first started working with the butterflies, his sister had recently died and a few months later his daughter was born.
“As I compose the pictures, they started to mean more to me. I breathed life into these dead butterflies.”
Photography | David Stesner
Like what you see? Get it first with a subscription to ASPIRE Metro Magazine