Summer 2015, in Georgia. This was an exhilarated Jeff. When I seriously began photographing butterflies, Gemmed Satyrs jumped out at me. They sprung out from field guides. It took me years to connect the memories and thoughts that ignited these nano-ignitors. This instant Gemmed was pointed out to me by Phil, a very savvy Georgia State Park naturalist. We had seen others, but they were in deep shade, on forest floor, their usual habitat. This one was too, but flew here to a spot with dappled sun penetrating, and . . . posed there. Posed, for me. Georgia hospitality, as I was getting so used to.
Rose and Jerry, both extraordinary naturalists, guided me to Gemmeds at Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia too. We found several, and truth be told, my ASA 100 Fuji slide film was just not fast enough for that really dark forest floor.
Gemmeds move me. Why? Well when I lived in New York, in the 80’s I would visit the world’s top auction galleries, enjoying seeing Pre-Sale exhibitions of American paintings and European paintings. Held for generations in homes of the wealthy, their descendants often decided they no longer enjoyed them or, needed the dollar$. You’d see those finest of artworks in the pre-sale, and then they would go up for auction, and end up in homes in Tokyo, London, Santiago or Beijing or Moscow, not to be seen again for coming generations.
At the time, I urged my wife Frieda A”H to come to Manhattan, have lunch with me, and then off to a Pre-Sale exhibition of . . . Magnificent Jewelry. When her slave mother and slave father were liberated from Nazi concentration camps in Germany, they reunited, and married in the camp named Bergen-Belsen, she wearing a wedding gown . . . tailored from a . . . parachute. Imagine that ladies? Among the rations these human skeletons were given, were cigarettes. Hey, they didn’t smoke, their families had never smoked, and now they had cigarettes, American smokes.
Well the Germans who lived in that part of Germany experienced severe deprivation too, the result of the unending military assault on Germany that convinced Hitler to end it. They were desperate for something they could not locate, smokes, American cigarettes. The ragged Holocaust survivors, who were storekeepers before the war, bartered their cigarettes for whatever the Germans had to trade, and that was often, their jewelry. Imagine, Hitler so debased his people that he left them exchanging jewelry for cigarettes. I never smoked, so I don’t know how this can be, be so it was.
So Frieda’s mother, Eda, came to this country with her husband Paul, and 3-year old Frieda, and those stones enabled Paul to once again practice the trade he apprenticed in in Poland, candy making. Eda, now 95 years old, remained fond of jewelry and shared that love of fine jewelry with my wife, Frieda.
Frieda was quite comfortable visiting Sotheby’s and Christies, and she did not hesitate to ask the attendants at those Pre-Sale exhibitions to try on this broach, or that solitaire diamond ring or the other bracelet. (I grew up mostly very poor, and I can say now that this left me very uncomfortable, for I guess understandable reasons).
This brings us to this revelation: I have seen the world’s finest jewelry on my wife’s Spring jacket, or on her ring finger or on her wrist. I have seen multi-million dollar gems up close. I have this personal history with gems. We didn’t buy them, but we examined them, held them and she wore them.
Why do I photograph butterflies? In part because I know, first hand, that the proudest work of the world’s finest artisans does not come close to the exquisite beauty of G-d’s butterflies. Not trying to be preachy here, but this is the wind to my sails.
Gemmed Satyrs then, so rare, so hidden, and so beautiful, evoke and have always evoked much joy, memory, love and yes, sadness for me.
This has been an especially long post for wingedbeauty.com, but one that was, I see, inevitable. Thanks.