Cicada Swarm 2021
Photography, photography paper 300mm x 700mm
What can Photographic Art Making Practices Reveal About the Impact of Catastrophic Bushfires on the Life Cycle of Cicadas?
The cicada’s mysterious ability to regenerate in abundance after the North East Victorian bushfires of the last 2 decades has inspired my recent photographic art making practice. Most of the cicada nymph shells I collected were found in rock and tree root crevices along the banks of the Upper Kiewa River in late summer after various bushfire events. Cicadas possess an extraordinary ability first as underground nymphs to deduce clues about the trees, temperature, and the seasons through the tree sap they feed on and likely, when to tunnel above ground, shed their shells and emerge full-grown and winged.
Within the broader concept of the Anthropocene, my creative practice investigates catastrophic events like climate induced bushfires. These environmental disasters devastated trees and played havoc with the seasonal cycles. My work suggests such events caused the cicadas to speed up their natural life cycle and hatch in abundance. ‘Cicada Swarm’ is an example of my creative practice that is focused on the production of photograms to reveal the impact of catastrophic bushfires on the life cycle of cicadas.
The cicada nymph and the photogram speak to each other through their unique reliance on darkness as a literal earthly crevice space to develop. The cicada nymphs’ journey starts in silent magnificence, underground, dwelling in the dark. Likewise, a photogram, a photographic image made without a camera, relies on the absence of white light to successfully develop. Cicada nymph shells and native flora were placed directly onto the surface of photographic paper and exposed to light in the darkroom. This unique process revealed the accidental and the unfamiliar that exposed the shells as if they were alive. The photogram’s variations of transparency in different objects also reveal unfamiliar and unexpected tonal silhouettes that echo the recent unpredictable cicada hatching patterns due to climate change.
In the darkroom, my work allows me to bring simplification and order to the profound complexity of nature explored through the cicada’s lifecycle. Nature is thus explored and exposed through the climate crisis that I am mostly powerless to control in the wider world. Ultimately, through catastrophic events such as bush fires, ‘Cicada Swarm’ shows a spinning mass of cicadas triumphantly responding to the changes in their environment. My work attempts to highlight the regenerative power of nature and show hope and optimism for the future.
Marg Leddin has exhibited many times and pursued a full-time career in Secondary and Tertiary education in North East Victoria. Photography has been a constant passion. For Marg the crispness of a black and white image both simplifies and amplifies reality.
Provenance: Peer reviewed submission.