In summer, from dusk until moonrise, Mauney finds the subjects of his photographs along quiet stretches of farm highways, in abandoned fields, hidden pockets of woods, and under power lines.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Fireflies are synonymous with summer in many parts of the country, but photographing them can be a real challenge. One man has spent nearly a decade perfecting a process that produces otherworldly luminous landscapes. And journalist Lara Pellegrinelli joined him in New York’s Hudson Valley.
LARA PELLEGRINELLI, BYLINE: Photographer Pete Mauney drives to work every night, flashlight in hand, wearing road safety gear. His oversized orange tee and strip of reflectors match the traffic cones stacked in the trunk of his car.
PETE MAUNEY: Most everyone thinks I’m a surveyor, except state troopers.
PELLEGRINELLI: During the summer months, from dusk until moonrise, he finds his subjects along quiet stretches of farm highway, in abandoned fields and hidden pockets of woods and grassy tracks under power lines within 30 miles of his home. in Tivoli, NY
MAUNEY: I never tire of it.
PELLEGRINELLI: Mauney photographs fireflies – that is, every night the temperature stays above 60 degrees and there is no rain.
MAUNEY: I never get tired of the challenge and the headache of trying to construct the images and trying to construct a good image because it’s not enough for me to have insects do the heavy lifting.
PELLEGRINELLI: A good image starts with location.
MAUNEY: Do you see them? It has a lot more than where we were before.
PELLEGRINELLI: Working by starlight, Mauney fixes his camera on a tripod. He points it at a line of trees with an electricity pylon behind. Turns out the house behind us is causing a little trouble.
MAUNEY: Except for the incredible brightness of this little, tiny porch light.
PELLEGRINELLI: From the house into the porch light, a man emerges, led by an overzealous goldendoodle.
(SOUND EXTRACTION OF A DOG BARKING)
MAUNEY: How are you?
PELLEGRINELLI: Mauney tells him that his property is an off-grid hub of activity. It may not look like anything special, but it’s an important place to document species increasingly impacted by light pollution, pesticides, and habitat destruction.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Turn it off?
MAUNEY: Turn off the porch light?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes. Yeah.
PELLEGRINELLI: Then he asks the guy to turn off the porch light. It is now very dark, but I can see thousands upon thousands of dancing lights in short bursts and longer flashes, creating patterns that hover and float. Mauney will leave his camera and position for up to five hours, collecting up to 800 timed exposures. He compiles them in Photoshop layer by layer, creating unique images that are wildly, chaotically real, and utterly fantastical all at once.
MAUNEY: Bioluminescent insects represent a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of all other insects that exist. So they kind of give us a little indication through the photographs of what’s out there, which is a lot of stuff that we don’t see.
PELLEGRINELLI: To help others see what they might be missing, Mauney is collecting information for a project at the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado at Boulder. There, scientists create the first dictionary to match firefly species with their distinctive flash patterns.
For – News, I’m Lara Pellegrinelli in New York.
(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “FIREFLIES”)
OWL CITY: (Singing) You wouldn’t believe your eyes if 10 million fireflies lit up…
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