Sam Droege, the head biologist at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center for the U.S. Biological Survey, gave a special experience to students on Nov. 10 when he presented his macro-photinsectography work and process as part of “Beyond the Hive.”
“Beyond the Hive” is a College of Fine Arts and Communication collaboration that has a range of bee-themed events occurring throughout the month of November until Dec. 7.
Droege came from Washington D.C. to kick off the series of events.
“When Sam came out of the tunnel in Seaway, I recognized him immediately,” said associate professor of media studies Liz Fakazis. “Who else would be carrying a light funnel?”
Fakazis was excited to have Droege on campus and said many of his photographs are gorgeous.
“His photographs reminded me how sometimes we don’t understand what the federal government does,” Fakazis said. “Sam’s photography brings his science to a huge art audience.”
Droege emphasized the importance the beauty nature holds through his workshop.
“Nature isn’t designing things for our pleasure, yet it’s seen as something we find beautiful,” Droege said.
Student photographer Olivia Locascio was not previously aware of Droege’s specialty.
“I’m really into photography,” Locascio said. “I’ve never heard of this type of photography before, and I thought it sounded really interesting.”
Droege briefed art and communication students about the history of NASA’s photographic work and how they related to his methods. He explained using examples of photographs of earth taken with the Hubble telescope and other high-quality NASA devices.
“My work is on the opposite end but is analogous to space,” Droege said. “The images we see repurpose our minds.”
Droege explained creatures he photographed could be found in a backyard but may look peculiar when seen up close.
“You get to look at that thing that you don’t know much about and enjoy the colors and combinations in detail,” Droege said. “When you look at it up close you see a lovely laid out thing.”
Communication major Johnny Bartholow was pleased Droege led students through his process.
“He ran us through from start to finish and that really helped explain how it all worked,” Bartholow said.
Droege had not previously lectured about his work to the general public but realized a responsibility when his images were being shared on Reddit.com and Imgur.com.
“In two days, my images got 200,000 views on Imgur,” Droege said. “I saw there was no information attached to the pictures saying it was from the government, and it woke me up that the general public was interested, too. The pictures had a life of their own.”
Droege’s images are public domain and viewable on Flickr.com.
Zach Strenger, an English and communication major with a creative writing minor, said he valued Droege’s workshop as a filmmaker.
“I figured I could translate what I learned from Droege to cinematagrophy,” Strenger said. “His presentation was different than I expected, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Mr. Droege spent a lot of time talking about the concept of beauty at a scientific and microscopic level, which was very Feynman-like.”
Droege’s experience with macro-photinsectography originated when the army approached him about issues they had while testing insect species on bases around the world. Droege said it seemed soldiers were suffering from bites more than bullets.
“The idea was to develop in-the-field photography systems for scientists to see detail and to give them feedback about what it could be,” Droege said. “Usually my job is science with a capital S. We modified their system.”
While the standard scientific photographer tends to use an 18 percent gray background, Droege does not. He said gray tends to imply death or near-death circumstances, which detract from the essence of the creature in the image.
“We want to focus entirely on the subject,” Droege said. “In the average picture, you can’t get rid of the little
specimens of dust you see on the creature. We pop off any fibers or dusts that show up in our photographs.”
Droege also participated in a “Meet the Artists” opening reception at the Carlsten Art Gallery from 4 to 6 p.m.
He ended his day with a gallery talk at 6:30.
Droege’s photographs are on display in the gallery through Dec. 10. His work can be seen on “Beyond the Hive” promotional posters around campus.
Fakazis encourages students to get a closer look at Droege’s photographs for the duration of the exhibit.
“It’s hard to be disgusted or fearful of these images,” Fakazis said. “When you get so close to them, you see the beauty of these creatures.”
Strenger had similar feelings.
“I definitely walked away from his workshop with a fresh appreciation of the world and some inspiration,” Strenger said. “Ordinary is beautiful.”
Arts & Entertainment Editor