Beetles! Alfred Russel Wallace’s Specimens.

Hello! Welcome to my Beetles! series. I am the behind-the-scenes photographer in the beetles department at the Natural History Museum (aka the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’). The collection is an enormous jewel box of six-legged beauty, and I’ve got plenty of photos to share!

For the last few months, I’ve had the incredible job of photographing Alfred Russel Wallace’s type specimens from the NHM beetle collections. I was so honoured to be able to see his specimens up close, to handle them, and to scrutinise his tiny hand-writing with my very own eyes! 50 of my Wallace photos are featured on the Natural History Museum Flickr page, and you can see them there in spectacular high-res glory!

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If you have any interest in science or the natural world, you’ll want to look Wallace up. Wallace was not only Charles Darwin’s co-publisher, he was also an intrepid explorer, a gentleman, a badass and a beetle geek. For these reasons, he easily makes it into my list of All Time Heroes.

November 7th marked the centenary of Alfred Russel Wallace‘s death. To mark the occasion, a statue of Wallace by the sculptor Anthony Smith was unveiled at the Natural History Museum. I was lucky enough to be there, and I listened to David Attenborough, Bill Bailey and Richard Wallace (Alfred’s grandson) say some very inspiring words. (If you haven’t already seen Bill Bailey’s A+ series of documentaries about Wallace, check ’em out here!)

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I like that the statue depicts Wallace in his prime: all dressed up in field gear and brandishing a butterfly net with a  look of wonder and delight on his face! He may be looking up towards a shiny beetle, but I reckon we can all look up to him.

To see the full set of beetle photos, click here.

Beetles at TEDxAlbertopolis

Hello! Welcome to my Beetles! series. I am the behind-the-scenes photographer in the beetles department at the Natural History Museum (aka the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’). The collection is an enormous jewel box of six-legged beauty, and I’ve got plenty of photos to share!

This is a deviation from my usual Beetles! posts, because none of these photos were taken inside the Natural History Museum. Instead, they were taken at the Royal Albert Hall, during TEDxAlbertopolis: ‘an afternoon of inspiring, thought-provoking and entertaining talks exploring how art and science fit together in the modern world.’ I was excited to hear all the speakers, but was particularly looking forward to Max Barclay‘s talk. Max is the collections manager for the NHM beetle and bug collection (you might recognise him from my photos) and he had plenty of interesting things to say.

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AboveMax in mid-talk, with his shirt accidentally adhering to the colour scheme!

The venue was the perfect setting for TEDx. the Royal Albert Hall is part of Albertopolis, London’s complex of buildings dedicated to the pursuit of science and the arts.  It’s a spectacular building, with its soaring Victorian ceiling and mesmerising colour-changing lights. An inspiring backdrop for inspiring ideas. The event was a sell out – the hall was packed with 5000 people – and I’m guessing most of those people left with a new appreciation for beetles and the work that goes on in museums!

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Below:  Beulah, Lucia, Lydia, and Hitoshi – curators and research assistants at the NHM Coleoptera department. The team manned the super-popular beetle exhibit, where the TEDx crowds flocked during the interval. They presented all sorts of fantastic 6-legged beasts from the Museum’s collection.

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Beetles! Emerald greens.

Hello! Welcome to my Beetles! series. I am the behind-the-scenes photographer in the beetles department at the Natural History Museum (aka the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’). The collection is an enormous jewel box of six-legged beauty, and I’ve got plenty of photos to share!

My favourite thing is colour, and unsurprisingly, that’s probably my favourite thing about the museum’s beetle collection. Drawer after drawer after drawer, there are beetles in shocking blues and velvety browns and luminous golds.  I could never pick a favourite beetle, but I have a particular fondness for those covered in green: shimmering emerald metallics, dark mossy hues, or glossy vivid greens. Nature’s colour palette is absolutely top notch.

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I’m currently working on a painting featuring beetles and foliage, and these green guys have been providing more than their fair share of inspiration. (You can see some of my preliminary sketches here and here.)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been collecting lots of visual inspiration for my project, and have come across lots of other artists and designers who have incorporated beetles into their work, some more literally than others. See: Necklace made from real beetle wings.

Helena-Maratheftis-emerald-beetles--07Above: A close up of Derbyana oberthuri, a specimen collected in Tanzania.

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Helena-Maratheftis-emerald-beetles--06Now, let me make one thing clear: there is much more to beetles than colourful exteriors. They are an astonishingly massive and diverse group of beings, and the more I learn about them, the more fascinated I become. However, just because they have Real Scientific Value doesn’t mean that we can’t admire how they look and, as the resident artist, I’m pretty sure that’s my job!

p.s. This is my first Beetles! post since June (whoops!) but that’s not because I haven’t been busy at the museum. I’ve got a set of exciting photos to reveal, but that won’t be until next month. Watch this space!

Beetles! A new collection at the NHM.

Hello! Welcome to my Beetles! series. I take photos for the beetles department at the Natural History Museum (aka the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’). There are plenty of photos to share. Stay tuned!

Last week was extra-exciting, as the team unveiled thousands of new specimens acquired for the museum collection. I was invited to take a peek at the new material…and encouraged to take lots of pictures, as usual. Here are some of my favourites. (You’ll be entirely shocked to discover that my favourites were the most heavily coloured and patterned beetles of the bunch!)

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Helena-Maratheftis-NHM-new-collection-600-03Jade greens and dusty blues…spots and stripes and abstract prints…gloss and matte and metallic finishes… these little guys give me so much inspiration for my artwork. They are just too cool.

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Helena-Maratheftis-NHM-new-collection-600-09Row after row of little white boxes, filled with specimens from all around the globe. These will soon be integrated with the museum’s current collection.

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Beetle & Me: The photographer and her subject.

Once a week, I head to the Natural History Museum, slip into the Coleoptera department, and take whatever pictures the department requires. I love it, love it. The collection is huge and there’s so much to see and to photograph. Of course, once my work is done, things often get a bit silly…

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What can I say? I just love hanging out with (dead) beetles.

Click here to see other Beetles! posts in this series.

Beetles! The Cheeky Butterfly Edition.

Hello! This is part of my Natural History Museum series – I’ve been taking photos for the beetles department (aka the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’). I will be sharing my favourite images with you every week!

Last week at the museum, I was looking through drawers of new specimens when I stumbled across trays of butterflies. It was a surprise to find them in the beetles department – butterflies are not beetles! They’re classed as lepidoptera, and they have their own museum hangout! However, after weeks of looking at compact little beetles, I was struck by the sheer novelty of broad, soft wings. I couldn’t help but whip my camera back out of my bag to take a few quick snaps.

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These particular butterflies were brought back from Tanzania. Aren’t they beautiful? I love the vibrant colours and crisp black lines and fuzzy little bodies. There’s just something so non-threatening about them, which probably explains why they’re loved by even the most passionate  of insect-haters. How can you hate something so delicate and good-looking? It’s just not possible.

Beetles! Photographing Gold & Stripes.

Hello! This is part of my Natural History Museum series – I’ve been taking photos for the beetles department (officially known as the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’)! I will be sharing my favourite images with you every week, so stay tuned!

Today I’m showcasing some stripy, golden beauties (click here for a detailed close-up). Aren’t they stunning? I love the contrast of soft metallic gold vs. glossy black stripes and swooping antennae. Have a look:

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Nature: Just Too Cool. When I stumble across specimens like these, I can’t help but marvel at how much style nature has. I’m a complete sucker for shiny metallics and bold stripes (in case ya hadn’t noticed), so it’s nice to know that I share the same tastes as mother nature!   Those are my hands in the photos – I happened to be wearing matching nail polish and jewellery on this particular day, which made me extra excited.

Click here to see other Beetles! posts in this series.

Beetles! Pins, more pins, and perfect shapes.

Hello! This post is part of my Natural History Museum series – I’ve been lending my photography skills to the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’ (which roughly translates as ‘beetles department’). I will be sharing my favourite images with you every week, so stay tuned!

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This week I want to show you some pins. Yes, pins. Have you ever looked at museum specimens? If so, you may have noticed that they’re perfectly laid out, with their six wiry limbs in a neat, symmetrical arrangement – see above. Unfortunately, this does not happen by magic. It is done with pins, and lots of precision.

Helena-Maratheftis-beetles-pin-cages-04Before specimens go on display, they are soaked in alcohol and left to dry while in a ‘cage’ of pins. Think of these pins as scaffolding, holding everything in place. I know I’ll be called a crazy artist (again) by the people in the department, but I think the cages look quite beautiful! Sort of like crowns of thorns, or rays of light beaming out. Here’s my artistic representation:

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Helena-Maratheftis-beetles-pin-cages-06The final product, after the pins have been removed:

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P.S. I know some of you are squeamish about insects, so I’ve been trying to only publish pictures of the pretty ones. The problem is, I think they’re all pretty ones! I hope you agree – and please let me know if you don’t!

Beetles! Photographing Glow Worms at the NHM.

Hello! This post is part of my Natural History Museum series – I’ve been lending my photography skills to the ‘Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division’ (which roughly translates as ‘beetles department’). I will be sharing my favourite images with you every week, so stay tuned!

This week I photographed glow worms. You might be surprised (and relieved?) to hear that they’re actually beetles, not worms! Some of the specimens at the museum are truly beautiful, with ridiculously long and elaborate antennae.

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The above specimen is special for two reasons. Firstly, because of those antennae. Secondly – and more importantly – because it is a type specimen. In other words, this particular individual is the ‘flagship’ specimen by which all others of its species are verified. The species’ name and description are officially attached to this one beetle, making it very precious indeed.

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Some of the specimens are very old, and I love the delicate, typewritten (or hand written) labels.
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Beetles! Behind-the-scenes photography at the NHM.

Hello! I spent yesterday at the Natural History Museum, lending my photography skills to the Coleoptera section of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division (which roughly translates as ‘beetles department’). I was presented with a jewel box of Tanzanian beetles, and was asked to take close-up portraits for their beetle database and. I was also given free reign to take as many ‘arty’ shots as I liked! Let’s just say I was in heaven. Most of the ‘literal’ shots will end up on the NHM Beetles and Bugs Flickr page, so I’ve mostly included creative photos here. Enjoy!

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Helena-Maratheftis-coleoptera-beetles-07From this angle, it looks like a tiny dragon! (‘You arty people love your weird angles, don’t you!’)

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Helena-Maratheftis-beetle-pattern2I couldn’t help but create a pattern out of these gorgeous, flame-hued beetles.

Helena-Maratheftis-beetle-pattern1 Helena-Maratheftis-beetle-pattern3I love the subtle variations in shape and pattern. Nature is just too cool.

Helena-Maratheftis-coleoptera-beetles-04Real entomologists wear beetle earrings. Continue reading