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in SEARCH of LOST FROGS
Photographer Robin Moore’s exhibition Metamorphosis blends science and art to explore our connection with amphibians. Words by Carolyn Enting Photography by Robin Moore
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hotographs of a model painted to look like a frog, posing with real frogs, has turned out to be a winning combination for Scottish conservationist and photographer Robin Moore. Images from his series Metamorphosis won first place at the FotoWeek DC International Photography Contest 2012 Natural History Portfolio, and will be exhibited for the first time in New Zealand during the ScienceTeller Festival at the Otago Museum from October 25 to 27 where he will also be presenting a lecture called “In Search of Lost Frogs: Changing perceptions one frog at a time.” Moore, who lives in Washington, DC, is creative director of the Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA) which is working to support the protection of amphibians and their habitats around the world. In 2010 he spearheaded the Search for Lost Frogs campaign, which began as an idea to put out a call for species lost to science, in the hopes their rediscovery could tell us something about why some frogs survived while others around them disappeared. It snowballed into the largest coordinated global search for lost species. A total of 15 rediscoveries and two species new to science were announced at the close of the campaign, and two of the top 10 lost species were rediscovered after 55 years and 87 years, in Israel and Borneo respectively, after the campaign ended. The campaign lives on and by the time Moore arrives in New Zealand he’ll have finished writing a book, In Search of Lost Frogs, to be published by Bloomsbury. It features his travels to Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Israel in search of lost frogs. “Those frogs that are turning up after decades of being unrecorded are providing important clues as to what caused the rapid and mysterious disappearance of many species, and these may help us protect these and other species,” he says.
going green Metamorphosis is a collaboration with conservation activist Gabby Wild, the body-painted model in the images. “She was running a campaign called “12 in 12 for 12” where she wore an outfit inspired by a different endangered animal every day of every month through 2012. I thought it was an interesting and innovative approach to raising awareness for conservation,” Moore says. “Gabby admitted that it had been harder to get people excited about the amphibians than the more ‘charismatic’ species, and so we committed to developing a campaign dedicated to amphibians. I knew I could obtain live amphibians to photograph, and we were inspired by the beautiful colours and patterns of these creatures to develop the idea of transforming Gabby into a number of different species. We thought it was the perfect metaphor to deliver the message that, despite changed form, we are bound by the same fate of environment.” Los Angeles was the location for the shoot – though not because of Kermit, but because two Academy Award and Emmy Award-winning make-up artists, Brian Sipe and Jennifer Aspinall, offered to do the make-up. The shoot itself was three days but took several months of preparation to arrange logistics and brainstorm concepts. Moore knew a frog breeder near LA who was happy for his animals to be models. The species were selected based on their appearance, rarity (the Luristan newt is an endangered species) and their suitability as models (availability and sensitivity to being handled). “Some frogs are very obliging models, and sit still pretending to look like a leaf or blending into their environment. Others are more energetic,” says Moore. When shooting Metamorphosis, the Luristan newt and blue poison dart frogs were like wind-up toys. “I needed a frog-wrangler just to keep catching and repositioning them. It can be a real test of patience,” he says. “One of the most obliging frogs I worked with was a glass frog in Colombia that leapt onto the glasses of a woman I was with – it made for a fitting shot.” Moore has been fascinated by amphibians for as long as he can remember. During summer holidays in the Scottish highlands he spent most of his waking hours wading through peat bogs in search of frogs and newts which became his portal to a wilder, more mysterious world. “I was fascinated by the fact that they had rubbed ankles with the dinosaurs,” he says. His fascination evolved into a Masters project on foam-nesting frogs in Trinidad and a PhD on a species of toad from the island of Mallorca in Spain. Since then he has worked to support the implementation of conservation projects in Latin America, Africa and Asia and was amphibian conservation officer at Conservation International before taking on his current role at ASA. “Biodiversity underpins all life on earth,” says Moore. “We are all connected. Once you start removing species it is like removing rivets from a plane – one day the system is going to collapse. Frogs play an integral role in the ecosystem as both predators and prey. Losing a frog is often akin to losing two species because of their dual lifestyle. With every species lost, the world in which we live gets a little less colourful. They are part of the rich tapestry of life and they have as much right to be here as we do.”
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Robin Moore is speaking at the Hutton Theatre, Otago Museum on October 26 about In Search of Lost Frogs, his exhibition Metamorphosis and Frame of Mind (frameofmind.org), an initiative which empowers youth to connect with their natural and cultural worlds through photography and visual storytelling. He urges interested people to become a part of the Amphibian Survival Alliance global community by visiting the soon to be launched website (amphibians.org). “We believe that, if enough people care, we can influence decision-makers to protect amphibians and their habitats worldwide,” Moore says.
MiNDFOOD.com Read Robin Moore’s tips on handling frogs. KEYWORDS: LOST, FROGS
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still life Top and middle: Gabby Wild poses with an obliging Waxy monkey frog from South America. Above: A South American horned frog. Robin Moore says that at times make-up application took around six hours, so scheduling in two frogs to be shot in one day meant a high level of efficiency was needed.
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In Search of Lost Frogs: Feature article on Robin Moore's quest for lost frogs in the October 2013 edition of MindFOOD magazine.