Using a custom light table, photographer Aaron Ansarov has captured the ethereal and frightening beauty of Portuguese Man o’ Wars in his series “Zooids.” Each one of these floating, compound marine animals are actually a colony of four different kinds of organism, each adapted to perform a specific function for the benefit of the whole, unable to survive on their own.
“As if looking through a special lens into a different dimension, Aaron has given them personalities that seems to shift with every viewer. Through Aaron’s masterful use of light, technique, and ability to go beyond the obvious, we are able to see patterns come together to create a fine-art collection of images entitled, Zooids: Faces of Tiny Warriors-beautiful creatures seeking their place in the world.”
Like gorgeous Rorschach tests, the images are symmetrical and abstract, familiar and indecipherable. The photographs are fine art, ready for display, yet scientists use them for research as well, since the creatures can only be kept alive in a lab for a limited time.
Why are these creatures so beautiful? From an ecological perspective, they don’t need to lure their prey with their multi-colored translucent displays. They look like blown glass, colorful and tactile, yet touching one would result in painful stings and welts from its long, stringy tentacles. It’s certainly a metaphor, that something so lovely can cause so much pain.
Ansarov finds the Portuguese Man o’ Wars on the beaches in Florida, having been blown ashore by the wind. He takes them to his studio, shoots them, and then returns them to the place on the beach where he found them, allowing nature to decide their fate.
“I have two rules with this project. The first is that captured creatures must be released unharmed. The second rule is that I keep shoots to 15 minutes or less, even if I don’t get the picture I hoped for. I don’t want to frighten my subjects. Besides, there’s always another time-they live right here.” (Source)