Activity: Collect and Compose

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

The American photographer Emmet Gowin transforms the common moth into a riveting subject for a work of art. Gowin spent 15 years photographing more than 1,000 species of moths in South America. The visual thrill of the series is heightened when you learn that nearly all the specimens were photographed while they were alive! These moths only come out at night, so Gowin’s project is what allows us to discover and admire them. What seemingly unassuming subject could you turn into a captivating work of art?

Twenty-five photographs of moths are composed in a five –by-five grid.
Emmet Gowin, Index No. 40, January 2011, French Guiana, 2011, Carnegie Museum of Art, © Emmet Gowin

See & Think

Emmet Gowin says that his grids of moth portraits remind him of yearbook photos. What do you see that might make him say that? Why?

He painstakingly sequenced the grid of images by paying careful attention to rhythms of colors and shapes. What patterns do you see in his arrangement of individual moths? How would the work change if each “portrait background” was the same?

Do: Collect and Compose Objects

Materials Needed: At least 10 objects from your home or nature and something to photograph the objects with.

  • To find your subjects, either peruse your own collection of objects, or explore nature outside and assemble a new collection. Talk to a friend or grown-up to brainstorm ideas; perhaps they have collections you could work with.
  • Once you have at least 10 objects, thoughtfully arrange them. Gowin made each moth a unique element and arranged them in a grid considering colors, shapes, and sizes.
  • He gave each of his subjects their own background. Will you?
  • You could photograph each object separately, cut them out and then arrange. Or make one photograph of your entire composed collection.