To the naked eye, insects, amphibians and other creepy crawlers may seem basic and even a little bit gross. But to nature photographer Chuck Murphy and entomologist Jena Johnson, these creatures living in our backyard are fascinating and beautiful. On Sunday, Aug. 27 Murphy and Johnson will display their photographs through the Meet Your Neighbors exhibit at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens.
Meet Your Neighbors is a worldwide photography project that brings humans and the wildlife around together. To meet MYN standards photographs must be shot against a shadowless white background, so the surrounding colors and a creature’s details are more enhanced. Moreover, all animals must also be released into the wild after they are photographed.
“It’s really nice to let them go, it’s a very rewarding feeling,” said Johnson, who has given up collecting and preserving insects after photographing for MYN.
Johnson, who has photographed for MYN for two years, is a research professional and laboratory manager in the University of Georgia department of entomology. She has been practicing macrophotography and entomology for 30 years and has been featured in publications such as Medical Entomology.
“When I first saw insects magnified under a microscope, I was blown away,” she said. “Because I’m so passionate about insects, I wanted to have a way to show these animals to other people who don’t have microscopes.”
The MYN photography style helps viewers see insects and other animals in an up-close and personal way as they have never seen before. Every microscopic detail that the naked eye can’t see is enlarged and accentuated in these photos.
While the vast majority of species listed in MYN are usually small and invertebrates, Murphy enjoys photographing larger animals such as birds, frogs and raccoons.
“They’re not like human models,” he said. “I like the challenge of trying to get a live raccoon picture in the wild without putting them in a cage, trapping them and setting them up somewhere.”
Murphy has been practicing nature photography for over 50 years and has had his work displayed in places such as the Georgia Museum of Art and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.
When he’s not photographing animals, Murphy teaches photography courses at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Georgia and the Athens-Clarke County Library. Featured in Popular Photography Magazine, Outdoor Photographer and the National Wildlife Federation, Murphy speaks at photography clubs across north Georgia.
One of the main challenges for MYN photographers is that the animals don’t pose or wait until the photographer has gotten the shot they want. Johnson and Murphy both admit that dealing with animals can be stressful at times, especially if the animals are venomous or stings.
“Patience is a big part of it, [but] these animals are gorgeous works of art,” said Johnson, who simultaneously admires the beauty, wonder and aesthetic of the creatures.
“Everything else in life is stressful,” Murphy said. “I’m totally in the zone when I’m taking photos and forget about all the other bad stuff that’s happening in the world.”
With over 70 photographers across six continents, MYN helps to educate people all over the world of the wildlife in places like Kenya, Singapore and Brazil, as well as in their own backyards. The botanical garden will be hosting this event free of charge until Oct. 8 at the Visitor Center & Conservatory, but the opening reception will be held this Sunday between 2 - 4 p.m.
“We’re giving local people the opportunity to have more of an appreciation of how interesting the local creatures are,” Murphy said. “There’s more cool stuff in your backyard than you can appreciate by just walking around.”
“Right here in Athens we have beautiful creatures,” Johnson said. “They’re here, you don’t have to go far to see them.”
Correction: In a previous version of this article Chuck Murphy was incorrectly named. The Red & Black regrets this error.