Tag Archives: photography

A photographer’s ‘fish story,’ literally

When the full moon is set to rise into a clear sky over a calm ocean at dusk, you know it is going to be a great photo opportunity.

Bring on the golden-red colours, the presaging glow, the first glimpse of the sliver of disk peeping above the watery horizon, the silver path of light on the rippling waves!

This was the moment on Tuross Head Beach last weekend, with the moon at its fullest and rising into the fading light of an early mid-winter evening.

Sedate but swift, the moon rises

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On this magic night the moonrise is a slowly moving visual feast, clinging to the ocean with a spectacular light-drop effect, then drifting upwards between the layered clouds. As I take photo after photo, the sky darkens, and the moon begins to lighten.   While it still beams with a deep russet glow, I frame up the cloud-bespeckled moon yet again, trying to keep the barely visible sea horizon level. I take the photo.

Suddenly, an eagle

A split-second later, with the sound of my camera shutter still ringing in my years,  an Australian sea eagle dives directly in front of the full moon, head down and wings spread, magnificently limned in the moon’s ruddy glow.

The eagle plunges into the sea like an arrow, to snatch one last fishy meal from the water as darkness closes in.  And I missed the perfect photo by milliseconds!

Later, reviewing my images, I did find at least photographic evidence of my story of the ‘one that got away’ – this lovely photo of the eagle making its approach from just above the moon.



The moons sails the night sky

Soon the moon fades to silver-white, lighting the waves and heading off on its journey to illuminate the night for other entranced viewers.




Photographs: All photos by Sabrina Caldwell. Other than resizing for web-use, no alterations have been made except that ‘Sea eagle over moon’ photo was cropped.

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Transcript of “Ancora and Eastway chat” on the role of illustration in photography: AIPP’s APPA (First of 2 parts)

Lisa Saad – The 2016 AIPP Australian Professional Photographer of the Year


Lisa Saad’s stunning images are the heart of a controversy about ‘real’ photography recently addressed by Rocco Ancora and Peter Eastway.[1]

The winner of this year’s Australian Institute of Professional Photographers (AIPP) Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA) created a lot of controversy. Many said that Lisa Saad’s winning Advertising portfolio was not photographic, but illustrative. To respond to this, Rocco Ancora and Peter Eastway (current and past chairmen) posted an interview-style video on APPA TV.  I have transcribed the interview because what was said was very interesting and it is easier to absorb the details when you can read it.  In a future post I will weigh in on my perspectives on what is being said, but first, I would be very interested to hear what you think.

Transcript of “Ancora and Eastway chat” (September 9 2016) in which the past and present Chairmen of the AIPP APPA discuss the response to the illustrative images of the 2016 winner Lisa Saad.


Peter Eastway on left, past AIPP APPA Chairman and Rocco Ancora on right, current Chairman [2]

Peter: Well here we are live at APPA TV.  I’m Peter Eastway, I’m a past AIPP APPA chairman, and I’m with the current AIPP APPA chairman, Rocco Ancora.

Rocco: Hello

Peter:  Good day Rocco.

Rocco: Good day Peter.

Peter: There’s been a little bit of consternation on Facebook and in social media about the term illustration and how it applies to photography. We’re worried that maybe illustration is taking over photography and photography is dead and buried. Lisa Saad’s amazing portfolio of advertising shots, they’ve sort of really got things going and I just wanted to know what you felt about the observation that the awards have been lost to illustration.

Rocco: Well, two things, consternation, what does that mean? (laughter) Just kidding. Let’s go back into illustrations. Now a photograph is an illustration, isn’t it?

Peter: Sure, I agree with that.

Rocco: But the awards are made up of many different categories Peter, some allow, you know, the illustrative element to be included in the final image, and some don’t. So when you’re talking about high jacking the awards can you be a little bit more specific.

Peter: Well how many categories do we actually have?

Rocco: We have 18.

Peter: And some of those categories are…

Rocco: Some of those categories are Sport where no visual manipulation is allowed, you’ve got Documentary where no visual manipulation is allowed, you’ve got Wedding, where some visual manipulation is allowed. You’ve got Advertising where the whole thing is about visual manipulation.

Peter: Let’s talk a little bit about advertising, I mean, we are professional photography awards, so it’s not just photography, it’s professional photography – how we do stuff for our clients.  So what do we do, what is the real world of advertising like? I mean, isn’t it true that if I’m going to shoot a car the chances are it’s just going to be a backdrop and the car itself is done by computer graphics?

Rocco: Absolutely.

Peter: What about the backgrounds that we are dropping in?

Rocco: Well this is part of what advertising photography is about. So when you look at the categories at APPA, they reflect what happens in the genre in the real life world.

Peter: So you do wedding and portrait photography …

Rocco: Yes.

Peter: …but if you are doing portraits for weddings, there’s an awful lot of retouching going on. I mean are those faces real faces?

Rocco: It’s called vanity, Peter.

Peter: And is there a little bit of illustration happening to those faces over and above the photography.

Rocco: Absolutely I mean with wedding photography or portrait photography you are creating a product for your client, ultimately speaking. Now clients expect to look the best that they possibly can.

Peter:  Can you do anything for me? …  Anyway, okay, let’s go back.

Rocco: Let’s not go there, I’m not a magician (laughter) let’s take it from there.  So what we are talking about here is having a reflective, I guess, the institute reflects what happens in the real life world.  So in weddings, I retouch my brides because that’s what they expect. We want them to look the best they possibly can. Portraiture is no different.  Advertising is no different to the fact that we are using different elements to create or sell the product, to sell the idea if you like.

Peter:  So I guess there’s some sort of a line isn’t there where we look at a photograph and we say, that’s pure photography, the photographer has just gone click and then we come to the other side where we’ve created something with composites, where we might have taken lots of different elements and put it together, and we might have done a little bit of brushwork to join it, and I suppose we’ve the beginning and the end and somewhere in the middle there’s a line where one is photography and one is illustration. Could you tell me exactly where that line is?

Rocco: (laughs) There’s a line here and there’s a line there, and then it shifts – it’s constant shifting sands.  When you talk about pure photography, what is pure photography?

Peter: Well, obviously what I do must be impure photography because I muck about with my photos.  I guess when we talk about pure photography, people looking at what comes out of the camera – there’s no further work is required. But I can’t think of doing that in the last twenty years, to be honest ever since digital came in, or never!  We always used to do more in the darkroom, we always used to do – even when it came to processing trannies you know you would push or pull, warm up the first developer a little bit, get a little bit more colour, a little bit more contrast … so that line is a real challenge. What do we do with the awards, though? Do we have one line or are there different lines?

Rocco: There are totally different lines, this is why the categories come into play. You have categories where it is about the authenticity of the original capture like Documentary, Sport, you know you can’t, you can’t alter the truth because this is what gets published in the magazines and newspapers; and once again the categories are reflecting what’s happening in the real world. But then you do have categories like Illustrative, where it is about the creative process being pushed to the nth degree using Photoshop – so there’s different lines. We don’t try to put everyone in a box, we try to evolve with the image making process.  And it has evolved over the years, you would agree, with the introduction of digital and now this constant evolvement of what photography is.

Peter: So I guess the danger for the AIPP in some ways is when we have a PPY[3] winner and it is representative of one genre of photography. It has to be because it is a category that wins it in many ways. That we get seen as only being interested in that type of photography But if people had come along to the awards a couple weekends ago, what would they have seen on the walls, I mean we put all our silver and golds up, I mean what’s your take on what we’re presenting at the moment?

Rocco: They would have seen first and foremost the best in Australian photography, or the best in Australian image making.  Because on the walls there was sport photographers, illustrative photographers, there was some incredible landscapes, probably not any of yours, but, um incredible landscapes.

Peter: I didn’t do too badly this time, I mean, a bit better.

Rocco: Did you beat Tony Hewitt?

Peter: I did beat Tony Hewitt, do you know, oh, and I love that. Anyway we’ll get back to the point you’re talking about.

Rocco:  So excellence in each of the genres is what we hang on the wall. So APPA is about celebrating that, it’s about celebrating every genre for what it is. Whether it’s um perceived as being the pure photography genre, or whether it’s perceived as being you know the more creative, not that, not that you can not be creative in single capture, but where you start to pull in other elements and start to play around with brushes in Photoshop to be able to create something that is not really there.

Peter: So as the APPA chairman I guess that is your challenge, to set up awards that are basically going to be representative of all the different genres of photography. And I have got to say that I think you’ve been doing a great job with that with all those different categories.  I just hope that in this way we’ve helped people to understand that while Lisa’s amazing portfolio was winner this year, it hasn’t always been the case. We look at the past winners, the different genres that we’ve had and it shows that what we really are is representative of all photographers.

Rocco: Absolutely, when we look back at last year’s winner, John Ansell, he won it with 4 tintypes. Now remarkably the 4 tintypes were entered into the Illustrative I believe. So he went with a very traditional process in a very modern genre, and it paid dividends because they were amazing images.  The year before that we had a Wedding portfolio. Obviously there was Photoshop involved…

Peter: James Simmons, yep.

Rocco: …in producing those [indistinguishable] beautiful monochrome images but they were real photographs if you like; they were perceived as being real photographs. Even before that we had colourful landscapes by Tony Hewitt.

Peter: So is Tony, ‘cause those landscapes didn’t necessarily look real, I mean when you looked out of the plane at the landscape below it wasn’t that colourful, so we’ve actually, I guess Tony has moved the slider a little bit. Is that the same as illustration? Is that now no longer straight photography? How far can we go? We’ve, we’ve got this line again haven’t we?

Rocco: At the end of the day we’ve got to think about it this way: when we capture an image it’s about visual communication and what we’re trying to convey as an artist to the viewer. Now Tony captured it, he perceived to be to be a totally different thing and he, he I guess he, he showed us what he felt. And that’s important because that’s part that’s a huge  part of the creative process. So we saw things things that not necessarily looked like landscapes but they were landscapes but they really took you to a different place and that why he did so well with the images that he did and it was groundbreaking really because we hadn’t really seen anything like that before.  So he took landscape photography with a little bit of Photoshop cause there’s not a lot of Photoshop in what he’d done except the perception of colour, and colour plays a huge part in the emotive communication side of things.

Peter: So when we bring that back to Lisa’s portfolio this year, those 4 really strong, and they are all very graphic in nature, they’re all captured with photographic elements, there’s a real style, a real look.  I think that what the judges were responding to was the imagination. And isn’t that what we as professional photographers have to take to the public? If we’re not going to take something that’s a little bit more than a straight capture these days, it’s very hard to compete with those 1.6 billion photos that are taken every day on Instagram.

Rocco: Absolutely, and I think as an advertising photographer you have to take people to a place they’ve never been before because that’s what sells the product. So Lisa did an incredible job with that. But taking it a little bit further than that, when you look at the PPY protocol to judge, you’ve been in that room many times, you know what I’m talking about.  You’ve got 11 judges, you’ve got 18 portfolios.  When you analyse each submission, it’s not about the amount of Photoshop that’s used – you know it’s beyond that.

Peter: It’s all about the image, isn’t it?

Rocco: It’s about the image, it’s about the level of creativity. It’s about whether an image moves you or not regardless of whether Photoshop was used, it’s irrelevant.

Peter: So is this photography?

Rocco: What is photography, Peter?

Peter: I think it is photography, isn’t it?  I mean, if we go back in history people often bring up Ansel Adams as being  the grandfather of photography, and I think that sometimes they forget that Ansel was pushing technology as far as he could. A friend of mine, twenty, thirty years ago, just before Ansel died, when he was a young fellow, and we were youngsters, he asked Ansel Adams what would you be doing in the future and Ansel said to him, there’s this new thing called electronic imaging that’s coming, he said geez I’d like to get involved with that. When we honour what came before, when we honour the tradition, sometimes we forget that the people we honour were trailblazers.  And so I see Lisa Saad as being a little bit of a trailblazer. She’s got a little bit of flack over her award and I, I think she can stand up to it. But I’d just like to congratulate her because she’s pushing us along, We mightn’t have to agree with what she’s done, but she’s certainly pushing our profession along, and that’s got to be a good thing.

Rocco: Absolutely Peter, and this is what the award system and this is what the institute is all about.  It’s about encompassing all aspects of photography, and it’s about evolving with the image making process and I think we are doing that quite, quite well.

Peter: Rocco, audience, thank you very much.

— end of transcript —

Your thoughts?

So that’s what leaders of the Australian Institute for Professional Photographers Australian Professional Photography Awards think, and they make some very interesting points.  How do you feel about it?

[1] These images are thumbnail illustrations of Lisa Saad’s much larger images available at the APPA website located at They are used in keeping with ‘fair use’ provisions of copyright for research. Request for permission to use larger versions of the images is pending.
[2] Screen capture of the interview on taken 16 December 2016 from As with the Lisa Saad images, this image is used in keeping with ‘fair use’ provisions of copyright for research.
[3] PPY stands for Professional Photographer of the Year

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Pestilent error and ‘The legitimacy of skies in photographs’

I am apparently in pestilent error. Worse yet, according to Henry Peach Robinson, I may be having “a detrimental effect on the unthinking.”  It appears I am a lingering member of a school of critics that for Robinson, was in 1869 “now, happily, nearly extinct.” While I would not say that I “teach that anything beyond mechanical copying or dull map-making is heresy in photography,” you all know that I believe we must distinguish between photographs (images that capture real people, places and events) and photoART (photographic images that have been enhanced or manipulated).

This is the stance that Robinson rails against in his essay “The legitimacy of skies in photographs” from his book Pictorial Effect in Photography in which he recommends to his fellow photographers that they should be combining photographic negatives to insert better skies into photographs. He states that “nature is not all alike equally beautiful, but it is the artist’s part to represent it in the most beautiful manner possible; so that, instead of its being death to the artist to make pictures which shall be admired by all who see them, it is the very life and whole duty of an artist to keep down what is base in his work, to support its weak parts, and, in those parts which are subject to constant changes of aspect, to select those particular moments for the representation of the subject when it shall be seen to its greatest possible advantage.”[1]

As I discussed in Photoreality, what a concept, Henry Peach Robinson is an early and famous practitioner of photo manipulation. His Fading Away image, made from 5 negatives, is an enduring fixture in the history of photography. Although no one has ever reliably deconstructed this image, based on his comments above, I think we can assume that at least 1 of the 5 negatives compositing the image was the sky outside the window.


Fading Away by Henry Peach Robinson – one of the earliest composite images made with 5 photographs [2]

In Robinson’s world, photographic manipulation is not to be criticised, but lauded. Robinson advises photographers to “heed not … the thoughtless objector, or bogus critic, who tells you that the landscape can only harmonize with that sky with which it was illumined when you obtained your negative. Remember that the portion of the sky which produces lights or shadows on your landscape is rarely that which the eye sees in looking at that landscape.”  In other words, don’t worry about using a different sky because no one will notice it anyway.

Now to be fair, Robinson’s and my experience of photography is separated by 147 years of change. Whereas I can easily produce 200 photographs in one session and still have time to do a half day’s gardening, Robinson’s situation was considerably different.

To create merely the negative image using the wet-collodion technique popular at the time, Robinson and his assistants had to make the syrupy collodion by dissolving gun-cotton (ordinary cotton soaked in nitric and sulfuric acid and then dried) in a bath of alcohol, ether and potassium iodide.  Then, they had to follow the process described by George Baldwin in his book Looking at Photographs[3]:

In the wet-collodion process, collodion was poured from a beaker with one hand onto a perfectly cleaned glass plate, which was continuously and steadily tilted with the other hand, to quickly produce an even coating. … When the collodion had set but not dried (a matter of some seconds), the plate was sensitized by bathing it in a solution of silver nitrate, which combined with the potassium iodide in the collodion to produce light-sensitive silver iodide.  The plate in its holder was then placed in a camera for exposure while still wet … After exposure, the plate was immediately developed in a solution of pyrogallic and acetic acids.  … When enough detail became visible … the negative was removed from the developer, washed in water, fixed with a solution of sodium thiosulfate to remove excess undeveloped silver iodide, and thoroughly washed to remove the sodium thiosulfite, and dried.  With an addition of a protective coat of varnish, the negative was ready to be used to make prints.


Frederick Douglass 1818-1895 [4]

However, lest we consider this onerous process solely with the modern sensibilities of digital photography and Pinterist, we must cast our minds back to the rarified role of photography in ordinary lives of the nineteenth century.

Consider how many photographs any one person from the mid-1800s expected to own in their lifetime.  Given the high cost and logistical issues (adequate dress, ability to access to studios) many families might aspire to only one or two.

Even the most photographed person of the 19th century, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who frequently sat for photographs to provide a counter-example to the extant stereotypes of African-Americans in the 1800s, can boast only roughly 160 surviving photographs.

Compare such a stellar record (by nineteenth century standards) to today’s prominent individuals like Barack and Michelle Obama for whom over 400 images can be seen on the first page of Google Images alone (a sample of which appears below.) There must by now be millions of photographs of the Obamas in existence; I feel strongly that Frederick Douglass would have approved.


Small sample of Google Image results for Barack and Michelle Obama taken 25 April 2016

If it was so difficult to create a photograph in the mid to late 1800s, then one might well understand making the argument as Henry Peach Robinson did that it was imperative that a photographer use all his tricks to make it a good one, including swapping out a ‘poor’ sky for a ‘good’ sky in an image.  However, the resistance to this argument was heated even in his time.  For example, Quentin Bajac relates the following story in his The Invention of Photography[5]:

“In 1855, a lively debate on the subject of retouching occurred within the Société française de photographie between the critic Paul Périer and the photographer Eugene Durieu. Périer defended the practice in the name of art: ‘Let me touch my negatives and even my positives if I can improve them and embellish them even one degree.’  Durieu was opposed to manual intervention of any description, as ‘using a paintbrush to help photography under the pretext of introducing art into it actually excludes the art of photography. … One will merely obtain something indefinable, which at most would be a curiosity.'”

Perhaps it is better to lift our perspective out of an argument about whether photography is a scientific representation of people, places and events into a broader view.  In this broader view, perhaps we could acknowledge that when photography came into being, it also spawned new, photoARTistic mediums in which photography plays a supporting role.

If we recast photo manipulation this way, then Durieu and I are no longer in ‘pestilent error,’ but simply discerning scientists / artists who can appreciate both photography and photoART, but most definitely make a distinction between them. I find that the more I research photography and its derivatives, the more strongly I take the view that once we begin making significant changes to our photographs, they cease to be photographs, and become photoART.

So, in photography, please give me the sky that was in the scene of your photograph at the moment you took it, not some ‘better’ version. But if you are creating and acknowledging a work of photoART and another sky suits your artistic vision, there is no reason to cavil.  In photography, the limit is the sky; in photoART, the sky’s the limit.


Sabrina Caldwell  25 April, 2016


 [1] Robinson, Henry Peach. [1869] The legitimacy of skies in photographs. Pictorial effect in photography, being hints on composition and chiaroscuro for photographers. Piper & Carter, pp. 58-62 (Reprinted edition by Helios, 1971)
[2] Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain. By Henry Peach Robinson.
[3] Baldwin, George.  [1991]. Looking at photographs: A guide to technical terms.  The J. Paul Getty Museum in association with British Museum Press. p. 27
[4] Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain. By George Kendall Warren – This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 558770.
[5] Bajac, Quentin. [2001] The invention of photography: The first fifty years. Thames & Hudson, p.64



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The Case of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth

I love how we can find out practically anything at a moment’s notice simply by Googling it. But the trouble with this type of instant information is that Internet content is by its nature highly fallible when it comes to accuracy. Put another way, there’s a lot of fiction mixed in with the facts. And because we are usually moving quickly through the information presented to us, we can misunderstand but still think we know.

Take the case of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth for example.  When I Googled this interesting sounding animal, the snap ‘info window’ on the right hand side of the search results (Fig 1) displayed several images and a short Wikipedia blurb.

Google results for Venezuelan Poodle Moth

Fig. 1: Google/Firefox Venezuelan Poodle Moth info window 5 Dec. 2015

My first impression of this moth was gleaned from this info window – the photographs, the authoritative comment from Wikipedia, the taxonomic classification. My reaction: could this moth be any cuter? I don’t think so. I instantly wanted to have them in my garden, or keep one as a pet. And to think that Nature dreamed up something so adorable, that even flies!

Or did she?    —    Well, maybe. It is an open question, and it depends on which image you are looking at.  Let’s do a bit of data mining on the visual and textual information supplied in Google’s info window and see if my first impressions of this moth were based on fact or fiction.

The images

There are seven images (not counting the ‘People also search for’ section). Two are identical, and the main photo and photo at top right are very similar. Are they all images of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth? No.

For starters, if you’re looking at the gorgeous fluffy white moth with the black striated antennae in the main image, or the smaller image at top right, you aren’t looking at a real Venezuelan Poodle Moth, or even any sort of a real moth.

You’re looking at a beautiful moth sculpture made of wool felt. What’s more, you’re not even looking at a wool felt sculpture of a Venezuelan Poodle Moth, but a Bombyx mori, or Silk moth.

This cute little piece of art is part of a larger art sculpture (Fig 2) exhibited at the Itami City Museum of Insects in Hyogo Japan in 2008.[9,10,12]. It appears to be by a Japanese artist named Hakoiri. You can see this and more of Hakoiri’s sculptures here .

Hakoiri wool felt sculpture at Itami City Museum of Insects photo by filmskiandwhatnow_tumblr_n4s2r3z7Zq1rxzlvxo3_500

Fig. 2: Wool felt sculpture of silk moth lifecycle by Hakoiri. Clockwise from left: caterpillar, pupae, male, eggs, female all on bed of Mulberry leaves (silk caterpillars’ favourite food) [3] Photo by Tumblr photographer ‘filmskiandwhatnow’

Beautiful art, but scarcely evidence of a new species of real moth, and rather misleadingly included in the information with which we have been presented.

The remaining images are real moths. Some have been taken by Dr Arthur Anker, the zoologist Wikipedia identifies as the discoverer of the Poodle Moth. Some have not. Are they Poodle Moths? Mostly no.

If you are looking at the photo of the moth in the middle top row to the right of the main picture, you are looking at a Muslin moth (Diaphora mendica) [4].

Muslin moth DrPhotoMoto-Flickr

Fig. 3: Muslin Moth-photo by Flickr photographer Dr PhotoMoto [4]

This moth is associated with the Venezuelan Poodle Moth because some experts think they might be related, and also because the photographer named the moth as a ‘Poodle Moth’ on his Flickr site in addition to its correct name.[4]

If you are looking at the photo of the moth in the right bottom row to the right of the main picture (Fig. 4) you are looking at an unidentified moth by an unidentified photographer. It looks a bit like a portrait of an Emperor Gum moth to me, but only an entomologist can know for sure.

Maybe an Emperor Gum moth?

Fig. 4: Unidentified moth by unidentified photographer

I was unable to find any evidence of this photo having been taken by Dr Anker, despite reviewing his entire collection of Lepidoptera photos on his Flickr site. This moth photo appears to have become associated with the Venezuelan Poodle moth through sites that are erroneously including this photo as an example of the Venezuelan Poodle moth.

If you are looking at the photo of the moth in the middle bottom row to the right of the main picture, you are looking at a moth that was photographed by Dr Anker; he calls it simply a “Cute Moth” (Fig. 5).

Cute Moth by Dr Arthur Anker

Fig. 5: “Cute Moth” – Dr Arthur Anker Flickr site

This moth has also become associated with the Venezuelan Poodle moth through co-location on sites ranging from Dr Anker’s Flickr photostream to quasi-scientific news sites that have been including this photo as an example of a Venezuelan Poodle Moth.[5,6]  But Dr Anker does not claim this to be a Poodle Moth.

The Venezuelan Poodle Moth?

Lastly, if you are looking at the remaining two identical photos (Fig 6), you  may be finally looking at a Venezuelan Poodle Moth.

Poodle Moth by Dr Anker

Fig. 6: “Poodle Moth” by Dr Arhur Anker, Gran Sabana Venezuela

This photo is by Dr Anker, who states the photo date was 1 January 2009, and can be seen in various resolutions on Dr Anker’s Flickr site here.

Although there is no reference original image to identify any manipulations, this image is at least cropped. The moth is obviously quite hairy;  with two of its legs crossed in front of it and  5 of its 6 legs showing in the photo, it takes on an extra level of fluffy cuteness. The image caption by Dr Anker is “Poodle moth (Artace sp, perhaps A. cribaria), Venezuela.”

At last we have come to the one unique photograph of the moth in question!  We have to adjust our understanding of the Venezuelan Poodle moth to just that one photo. And although it isn’t quite what we first expected from our Google snap info, let’s face it, it is rather adorable.

And actually, does bear a marked resemblance to a poodle (for a moth).

Poodle Moth and Toy Poodle

The text and taxonomy of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth

The text blurb accompanying this extraordinary range of images reads:

“The Venezuelan Poodle Moth is a possible new species of moth discovered in 2009 by Dr Arthur Anker of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in the Gran Sabana region of Venezuela. Wikipedia.

Higher Classification: Artace
Rank: Species”

This looks very authoritative, doesn’t it?  And frankly, like Mulder in The X-Files, I want to believe. It is evident from his 134 academic papers that Dr Anker is a respected zoologist, particularly in the field of crustaceans, especially shrimps.[11] He can therefore be assumed to be acting in good faith in presenting this moth photo as evidence of a possible new species.

But in reality, at the present time there is currently no formally identified moth by the name of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth. There is only a photo of a moth with a whimsical name. The moth is very far from scientifically described.

We have no information on its size or other physical details, its lifecycle or its specific habitat. We do not have a specimen in any collection as far as we know. Without even the most basic of information, it is difficult to ascertain from the photo that the moth is of a previously unknown species of moth from the genus Artace.

However, I can’t say it will not eventually be a Venezuelan Poodle Moth, given it is as yet unidentified and could one day be a new species, which could give Dr Anker naming rights to the moth, which he may then give the common name Venezuelan Poodle Moth, although I think ‘Anker’s Poodle Moth’ has a nice ring to it too.

In summary

So, in separating fiction from fact, I would say that the Google info window results would leave the casual observer convinced that this moth exists, that it is large, fuzzy and friendly, and that it comes in a variety of colours.

As a reminder, here is the Google results window I started with:


The reality of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth is that at present it doesn’t exist, although a photo of a lovely unidentified moth with the title ‘Poodle Moth’ from Venezuela does exist in Dr Anker’s Flickr photostream. Certainly it isn’t the over-the-top-cute fuzzy moth that could be held in the hand (because it was a wool felt sculpture). It also doesn’t come in the orange and white variants (as far as we know) that the info window evokes.

However, Google results to the contrary, this is all we know about the Venezuelan Poodle Moth:

Zoologist Dr Arthur Anker has uploaded an image to Flickr of an unusual and possibly new species of moth he reports having photographed in the Gran Sabana area of Venezuela, and he has called it a ‘Poodle Moth’ (illustrated below) and tentatively suggested it to be in the Artace genus of Lepidoptera.

Venezuelan Poodle Moth

“Poodle moth (Artace sp, perhaps A. cribaria), Venezuela.”

Really Google, was that so hard to say?

[1] Per (if this species is new and is in the Artace genus) it would be taxonomically located in the family tree as: Kingdom: Animalia – Class: Insecta – Order: Lepidoptera – Superfamily: Lasiocampoidea – Family: Lasiocampidae – Genus: Artace
Source: Accessed 5 December 2015.
[2] “Venezuelan Poodle Moth” Accessed 5 December 2015.
[3] Abad-Santos, Alexander. Venezuelan Poodle Moth is the Internet’s Favorite Pet this week. The Wire. 30 August 2012. Accessed 5 December 2015.
[4] Shuker, Karl. Mystery of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth – Have you seen this insect??. 22 August 2012. Accessed 5 December 2015.
[5] ‘boredpanda’. 21 more strange animals you didn’t know exist. Accessed 6 December 2015.
[6]  Avax News. Venezuelan Poodle Moth. 13 January 2013. Accessed 6 December 2015.
[7] Abovetopsecret. The Bizzarre yet awesome Venezuelan Poodle Moth – Facts behind the hype 6 May 2013. Accessed 6 December 2015
[9] Accessed 7 December 2015.
[10] Itami City Museum of Insects. Accessed 7 December 2015
[11] Arthur Anker. Universidade Federal do Ceara, Labomar. Accessed 9 December 2015.
[12]  Accessed 10 December 2015. The almost intelligible Google Translate translation of his artist’s statement is “Mozomozo – worms, insects Exhibition” was produced in order to participate in the exhibition that, for the first time and made insects moth of the first issue also Fumofu in wool felt, are you silkworm like that silkworm adult. And make try to, I’m more insect of wool felt facing is the Was … cute I think I think we do not, silkworm. By Chimachima flocked to thin legs, it was also representing the Fumofu feeling. Apparently so people mother’s generation is Kuwabata around us until the time of your elementary school was a lot, but I’m willing to talk about the silkworm it’s mon were grown until it emerged in the pupae from larvae, I brought up unfortunately It has never  been. It was for sure, and vowed to mind someday.”
[13] Toy Poodle. FreePik. Accessed 10 Dec 2015.
Postscript —
For those of you wondering how I happened to take an interest in the Venezuelan Poodle Moth, it was like this:
I had the idea that it would be interesting to do a post for my Matched Set series on the cheeses of Monty Python’s The Cheese Shop skit.  As it turns out, someone else already had the idea, but in the process of looking around, I decided to Google that most infamous of cheeses, the Venezuelan Beaver Cheese.  : )  In the results was a reference to the Venezuelan Poodle Moth, and who could resist learning more about a Venezuelan Poodle Moth?  And so the saga began…

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“Photography is not selfish. Although it captures the moment, it doesn’t keep it. Photography gives back to the viewer the fraction of time which it once captured. Making it generous for years and even generations to come.”

Quote by photographer Mickey Burrow

It’s easy to fail to fully appreciate that our photographs are an important resource to us. Because they are ubiquitous, we often take them for granted as just a part of our lives. But should we lose them, we are devastated. Photographs help us to celebrate happy times, live through difficult ones, and highlight all our most momentous experiences.  We count on them to help us remember with precision and clarity loved people and places we might otherwise recall only indistinctly, faces blurred by the passage of the years, colours dimly recalled, landscapes faded. Like kind and compassionate friends, photographs succour us, and bring us joy. Surely, in one of Guan Yin’s thousand hands devoted to helping us, there rests a photo album.


Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva Great Compassion Shrine Nan Tien Temple Woolongong NSW Australia

Avalokitesvara  by Sabrina Caldwell 11 November 2008; photograph unaltered other than resizing for web use

According to the Nan Tien Temple in Woolongong, “Avalokitesvara can be loosely translated as “the compassionate sage who sees,” referring to this Bodhisattva’s ability to see all the suffering in the world and thus come to people’s aid. She is said to have one thousand eyes and hands with which to save all sentient beings. Guan Yin takes a variety of forms; the Front Shrine’s primary statue portrays her with a third eye in the middle of her brows, and multiple hands.” [1]

[1] Nan Tien Temple, Accessed 11 October 2015.

The benevolence of photographs

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Posted by on October 11, 2015 in Quotes


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“I had thought I could stave off loss through photographing. But the pictures show me how much I’ve lost.”  

Nan Goldin, photographer, USA
born 1953, Washington D.C.  [1] [2]


Holly, 1997-2015


Holly – photograph by Sabrina Caldwell 2 July 2006; other than re-sizing for webuse, photo has not been altered in any way.


[1] Quote by Nan Goldin from The Ballad (1996) in Afterward to reissued book version as reported by Sheryl Garratt, The Dark Room, The Observer, Sunday 6 January 2002 Accessed 8 March 2015
[2] Nan Goldin Biography. Artnet. Accessed 8 March 2015

Nan Goldin quote


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Flaming molecules

Photographing a fire can be both challenging and satisfying.  Challenging, because those flickering flames just won’t stay put for more than an instant at a time. Satisfying, because a crisp photo of a campfire or bonfire is a thing of golden beauty and lasting memories.

Campfire, April 2008

Campfire, April 2008

Photos of fires evoke special memories of star-spangled nights encircling a crackling fire with friends and loved ones. Looking at these photos years later helps us remember each campfire as a unique event, a particular kind of fire that feels different to the memory than any other.

But what exactly are we photographing when we frame up the flames in our viewfinders? Light, surely, but from where? What makes a fire burn? We all know it is the wood that is burning, but why do flames appear above and around the wood, not just on its surface? Conversely, why are there glowing coals inside the flames?

And why does putting water on a fire douse it? Why does putting a fire blanket on it smother it?

I’ve done some investigating into how wood burns, and have discovered that fires are both simple and complicated at the same time. And it is all to do with a chemical reaction that is self-sustaining once it gets going.

Secondary Combustion

It may seem counter-intuitive to start with Secondary Combustion; no doubt you are thinking “but what about Primary Combustion?”  I’m starting with secondary because I find it easier to think first in terms of the process by which a fire starts, rather than thinking in terms of fuel.


Plants build wood from CO2 and H2O, and fire turns wood back into CO2 and H2O again.

Wood is made up of molecules that are remarkably like sugar.  Like the sugar we eat, these molecules are an easy source of energy. While there are many types of molecules that make up what we call a piece of wood, the main molecule in wood is cellulose. In a live fire, cellulose molecules (C6H10O5) break down into carbon dioxide and water. [1] This chemical reaction is the reverse of photosynthesis, in which plants assemble cellulose from carbon dioxide and water. Plants build wood from CO2 and H2O, and fire turns wood back into CO2 and H2O again. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  But it gets more interesting from here.

Firstly, it isn’t really the cellulose inside a piece of wood that catches fire and starts the whole chain reaction going. It is gaseous cellulose and other volatile molecules floating above the wood.

Cellulose molecules are linked tightly to each other through an oxygen atom.  Fires catch alight only after wood is heated enough that some cellulose molecules break away from their oxygen links. Once in the heated air above the wood, the unstable molecule reacts with nearby oxygen molecules. In this reaction, the atoms in the cellulose and the O2 swiftly recombine into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) molecules. CO2 and H2O molecules have a lower energy state than cellulose, and the extra energy is released in the form of light and heat. [2] Voilà, light and flames and photographs!

Ironically, it takes heat to start a fire, because without heat, the cellulose will just stay in the wood and not combust with the oxygen.  However, once the initial heat is applied and the process starts, it is self-sustaining; the heat generated by the chemical reaction causes more cellulose to be liberated from the wood which then combines with O2 with the side effect of producing more heat which liberates more cellulose and so the cycle goes on. The fire will continue until the wood is exhausted or the fire is put out, whichever happens first.

However, what I’ve just described is only half the story. The flaming molecules of cellulose and oxygen are what cause the flickering flames in which we delight.  But what about the glowing wood, the motes flying through the flames, and the hot coals that toast our marshmallows? That’s where primary combustion comes in.

Primary Combustion

Primary combustion is what creates the coals and embers of the fire. This is direct burning of the solid wood rather than the burning of gases given off by the wood as happens in secondary combustion.

Camping at Wombeyan Caves 25 April 1999

Campfire burns low at Wombeyan Caves 25 April 1999

As the volatile molecules are used up and the fire dies down, the temperature around the wood drops, and the combustion of molecules such as cellulose no longer takes place as rapid gas combustion above the wood, but as slower burning directly within the wood. Because it takes place at a lower temperature and with less exposure to atmospheric oxygen, the solid wood burns more slowly, and tends to retain its carbon to become charcoal.

If the fire burns hot enough for long enough, all of the charcoal will also be used up and there will be nothing left of the wood but ash, which is all the components of wood that cannot burn.

Of course primary combustion is usually taking place at the same time as secondary combustion, which is why the firewood glows even while the flames flicker.  And as bits of wood pop and crackle, tiny pieces of wood undergoing primary combustion break away and fly up into the flames as motes of glowing coals.

Stopping the fire reaction

Bobby controls tree-side of bonfire Michigan, 2014

Brother Bobby hoses down tree-side of bonfire
Michigan, 2014

We all know that if we pour enough water over a fire, it will go out.  But why? It is because water reduces the amount of energy available to the chemical reaction of fire. It takes heat to make cellulose molecules break away to combust in the air. When water is added to a fire, it soaks up all the heat near where it has fallen, and the cellulose molecules in that area aren’t hot enough to break away. Unless a new source of heat is applied, the fire reaction can’t recommence.

Water is also the reason that fresh twigs and logs are often difficult to use in a fire – the water inside unseasoned wood interferes with the heat buildup that commences the fire reaction. If the fire is hot enough, and there is enough moisture in the wood, water escapes from the wet wood as steam. As the wet wood dries, it becomes usable fuel for the fire.

Smothering a fire with dirt or a fire blanket targets a different aspect of combustion. The goal with smothering a fire is to remove the fire reaction’s access to oxygen. Without access to oxygen molecules, wood molecules such as cellulose cannot react and recombine into CO2 and H2O and so no new heat is produced and the fire reaction cannot sustain itself.

So when we take out our cameras to photograph a fire, there is so much more to know about what we are recording than just the beauty of the flames. A fire photograph shows how much primary and secondary combustion is taking place, the speed of combustion, the quantity of coals being created, how wet the wood is, and how hot the fire is. These are the characteristics that form the uniqueness of that particular fire, and even if we don’t consciously recognise them, they are the characteristics that create our memories of that moment of fire.

All photographs by Sabrina Caldwell; other than re-sizing for webuse, photos have not been altered in any way.

The cycle of Cellulose and Oxygen CO2 and H2O diagram is a composite of six photographs, manipulated arrow clipart and text.  Many thanks to Harry Ward for his endless patience in throwing molecule models in the air for me to photograph!


[1] Curkeet, Rick. Wood Combustion Basics:
[2] More than you ever wanted to know about wood combustion:

Clipart arrows used in diagram from


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