Story and Photographs by Robin Moore
Metamorphosis spawned out of a conversation I had one day in early 2012 with conservationist Gabby Wild. We were discussing the difficulties of raising concern for the plight of the most threatened group of all vertebrates, the amphibians, and committed to concocting a publicity campaign. We wanted to do something different, something that would make people look twice, or see amphibians in a new light. A few months later, we were in a studio in Los Angeles decorating a body-painted Gabby with live frogs and newts.
In my time as an amphibian biologist and a photographer I have shot (with a camera) a lot of frogs, but this shoot was different. Rather than wading mosquito-riddled swamps or hacking through thick jungle to find and photograph elusive frogs in their natural habitat, I was bringing them into the controlled environment of a studio and shooting them against the canvas of the human body. In doing so, I had to learn a whole new way of shooting. Instead of finding or waiting for the right light, I had to craft my own, and instead of patiently waiting for the action to unfold in front of me, I had to conceptualize and create compositions around a theme. It was both testing and creatively invigorating.
For the image series we agreed to focus on the concept of transformation – to explore the notion that, despite changed form, we are bound by the same fate of environment. We carefully picked our frog and newt models and enlisted Academy-Award winning makeup artists in Los Angeles to transform Gabby into the chosen species. We went about securing a studio and live amphibians (kindly loaned to us by Bob Mailloux with the assistance of Michael Ready), raised funds through a kickstarted campaign, and headed to LA.
The shoot itself posed a number of challenges that tested the nerves, but it was ultimately one of the most rewarding projects I have worked on. We had three days, in a studio in which none of us had set foot, to turn Gabby into six species and photograph her with the same species. The body-painting took up to 6 hours for each animal, meaning that the time to actually photograph was short and intense. All the while, we had to keep the animals cool and moist. Working with live animals added a wonderful element of unpredictability to the shoot – the waxy monkey frog could not have been a more obliging model, whereas the Luristan newt seemed intent on throwing itself off Gabby at every opportunity. Many of the poses I had spent months envisioning went out the window as the frogs had very different ideas. But the unpredictability also inspired new and spontaneous compositions. When the waxy monkey frog reached out to grab Gabby’s finger almost in a plea for help, it was a moment that embodied the essence of the campaign.
The resulting image series has been featured by the Amphibian Survival Alliance (www.amphibians.org) to promote amphibian conservation, and won first place in FotoDC International Photo Competition in 2012 (Natural World Portfolio Category). It is my hope that, through this series, people may be inspired to appreciate the beauty and diversity of amphibians.
Link to series: http://www.robindmoore.com/#!/index/G0000OImrJRIGMK8/1
Note: Michael Ready is a photographer from ILCP and Bob Mailloux is the owner of a captive breeding facility for frogs in California. Many of the species Robin used were endangered, so it would have been impossible to bring them out of the wild to photograph them in such a way. Robin’s images have been used to raise awareness about the plight of amphibians in an incredibly creative way.