- Pete Mauney
- Cemetery Rd. | Pete Mauney | 2015
From children with mason jars to furtive couples entwined on benches, it is no wonder we are drawn to the glinting of fireflies. There are just under 2,000 species of fireflies worldwide, lighting up six continents and countless imaginations with their ephemeral flashes. For New York State residents, the twinkling of these bioluminescent faeries is an endearing sign that summer, in all its hot and humid glory, has returned.
Over the past five summers, Tivoli-based photographer Pete Mauney has trekked through marshes and fields all over the Hudson Valley. His time-lapse firefly images are taken over periods from 15 to 60 minutes.
Asked about his obsession, Mauney responds, "They are stunningly beautiful. And alien, even though they're not. I could spin a yarn of artspeak BS miles long about them. But that would seem to me to do them a great disservice."
He finds the science behind these glowing beetles "mind-blowing," adding, "Even the vocabulary is great: luciferin and luciferase are among the chemicals responsible for the bioluminescent reaction. Lucifer (as a word, not a religious concept) means bearer of, or holder of, light." A note on the anatomy of fireflies: Lightning bugs modulate their oxygen intake to regulate the length and frequency of their flashes. The sparks we see on a given midsummer's eve are mostly the displays of strutting males, flashing as quickly and ostentatiously as possible, hoping to hit paydirt. Like some primordial Tinder exchange, discerning females lie hidden, swiping left until a potential mate catches their eye and they signal back. There is even a "femme fatale" in the firefly world—the carnivorous female of the genus Photuris imitates other species, luring unsuspecting males in and devouring them.
To Mauney, fireflies are a rare window into the unseen parallel world of bugs. "The visualization of an otherwise mostly invisible biomass that dominates humans on a planetary scale, both in mass and speciation, is fascinating. I think of it as the inter-dimensional protein blanket that covers our planet."
"As a human, a photographer, and a parent, I often have to choose between experiencing something or recording it. But this subject matter, because of the extended timeframes involved, actually allows you to do both on a pretty deep level."
While there are many aspects to photographing fireflies that attract Mauney, he remains adamant that they are secondary to his "initial and consistent impulse: Fireflies are transcendently beautiful."
Follow Mauney's work at Ninetyninenorth.com or on Instagram: pete_mauney.