PANGAIA x Levon Biss

Microscopic marvels.

Insects—like you’ve never seen them before. Our limited-edition capsule, designed in collaboration with world-renowned macro photographer Levon Biss, showcases and celebrates our planet’s smallest, brightest, and most vital creatures.

Every tiny, iridescent wing, minuscule eye, imperceptible hair follicle, magnified. Levon Biss’ macro photography captures the hidden intricacies of our planet’s insects in the most minute—and surprising—detail. Each image, from the luminescent Tricolored Jewel Beetle to the emerald green Sawtooth Beetle, shows us that when we look much, much closer, there’s a whole world of awe-inspiring color and ingenious design, waiting to be discovered.

Levon Biss’ work captures not just the unseen beauty of our planet’s insects and pollinators, but how crucial they are to our planet’s survival. His recent exhibition, Extinct & Endangered, created in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History, shed light on critically endangered insects and the impact their loss is having on our ecosystems. In the UK alone, flying insect numbers have declined by 60% in the last 20 years due to monocropping, pollution and habitat loss.*

We visited Levon Biss’ studio in the leafy English countryside to explore his uniquely intricate photography methods, why he made the switch from human subject to insect, and what he hopes his work will evoke in all of us.

How do you capture such close-up, zoomed-in images?

“I photograph using microscope lenses on a bespoke photo rig. What I've built is a rudimentary microscope that's good for one particular purpose—and that's for shooting extreme macro. You've got the microscope set on a tube lens that goes into some bellows onto a DSLR camera, and then all of that is set on a rail, which I can automate to move forward in increments of my choice.”

“If I'm shooting on a 10x magnification objective, then the camera will move forward in increments of about seven microns. You’ll take a picture and move forward seven microns, take a picture and move seven, and so on. That gives you a big stack of images, each with a tiny sliver of focus. The width of the hair on your head is 75 microns wide—so you can see this is in very small increments.”

“I'm not an entomologist, I photograph insects. And that's what keeps it exciting, because I never know quite what I'm going to get out of the next picture.”

What’s something you’ve learned since starting macro photography?

 “When you photograph in high magnification, you see things that you can't see with the naked eye. I'm not an entomologist, I photograph insects. And that's what keeps it exciting, because I never know quite what I'm going to get out of the next picture.”

What's easier to photograph— insects or people?

“Insects. They don't talk so much.”

Why did you make the switch to macro photography?

“I've been photographing humans for 15, 16, 17 years, and I've shot lots of different genres of photography—from documentary, to portraiture to sport. I was getting to a point where, particularly in the digital age, I was feeling that my work was becoming a bit disposable. You put your heart and soul into a picture, and you’ve got billboards around for a month, and then it'll disappear. So I was trying to look for a new sort of genre and type of photography that would get me excited again because I was also getting to a point where I wasn't really learning anything new.”

What do you hope people take away from your work?

“I hope they enjoy the photographs, and are in awe of the specimens. When you're showing somebody an insect, say the insect is five millimeters long in real life, in my exhibitions I present them as prints up to three meters high. And it kind of gives people quite a unique visual experience. You're not used to seeing [them] in that kind of detail and clarity. I find that people—particularly children—are fascinated by it. It also gives them a chance to study these specimens, or this insect. Particularly for the next generation, they can have more of an appreciation for insects, and hopefully, they'll understand what insects do for humans, and how much we rely on them.”

 Do you have a favorite insect that you’ve photographed?

“I particularly love photographing beetles. One of my favorite insects that I’ve ever photographed is Charles Darwin’s Shield Bug that came from Australia. He brought it back on the HMS Beagle. But, you know, I find every specimen I photograph quite exciting—they're all engineering marvels when you look at them up close.

What's been a career highlight moment?

“Recently, I opened an exhibition called Extinct & Endangered that took 2 years to shoot. It's about insects and the current crisis of insect decline and biodiversity loss. I shot it with the American Museum of Natural History. We've had maybe 2.5, 3 million visitors to that. Knowing that it’s actually going to make a little bit of impact, raising awareness of these issues that are underreported.”

“Every time I photograph a new insect, I see something new. And I've had the privilege of photographing some of Charles Darwin's specimens. When you're there, holding this pen with an insect on top of it, and underneath, it's got a little piece of paper signed by Charles Darwin... It's quite a humbling thing when you're handling extinct specimens, or some of Darwin's specimens.”

“I find every specimen I photograph quite exciting—they're all engineering marvels when you look at them up close.”

Tell us about your PANGAIA capsule.

I get asked quite a lot to collaborate with clothing brands, and I've always said no. But this one, because of PANGAIA’s philosophy and eco-credentials, I said, yes. Hopefully the partnership can raise awareness about the necessity of insects, and make people realize that we are now sadly, in the sixth mass extinction. The rate of decline now is alarming.” 

“When I was shooting the Extinct & Endangered exhibition, after the first year, I kind of started to think more about, well—is this about the extinction of insects? Or is it more to do with humans? You know, because we wouldn't survive if it wasn't for insects. They decompose our organic material, they pollinate our crops, and a whole range of other things. And if you start reducing the numbers of these little creatures, then there's a knock on effect. There's a food chain, and insects are the bedrock of pretty much most ecosystems. With the collaboration with PANGAIA, if we can try and amplify the message about the importance of insects, how we can look after them, maybe just have a little bit more appreciation for them, then I think the collaboration will be a success.”

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