Our imagination flies…

we are its shadow on the earth.

(Vladimir Nabokov)

There she is. Little and fragile, on her blue dress, as blue as her eyes. It is cloudy, yet she is sitting on a bench at the park, watching the world around: the playground, the trees, the people passing by… Some butterflies start flitting around her, inviting her to play with them. Looking a little bit sad, she doesn’t follow the little creatures. Instead, she picks a glossy paper from her school case and folds it into another butterfly, this one bright and blue, to swing it among its imaginary friends.

Suddenly, a naughty gust of wind seizes her butterfly away, high above, blowing her illusion to the unreachable tree tops. The sun comes through the foliage, casting the shadows of the world. She sees herself cast on the ground and smiles: her long, long legs would now allow her to catch her butterfly. And so the story goes…

How determining can reality be, and how can fantasy unleash an unexpected freedom? Can a fragile world of lights and shadows show us more than a silhouette drawn against the sunlight?

A shadow of Blue”  |  Written and directed by Carlos Lascano  (Vimeo)

From the age of seven, everything I felt in connection with a rectangle of framed sunlight was dominated by a single passion. If my first glance of the morning was for the sun, my first thought was for the butterflies it would engender.

(Vladimir Nabokov in “Speak, Memory”)

The life and work of the novelist Vladimir Nabokov referenced many symbols, none so much as the butterfly. Butterflies prompted Nabokov’s travels across the United States, exposing him to the culture and physical environment that he would transform into his best-known novel, Lolita. Butterflies motivated his parallel career in science, culminating in a then-ignored evolutionary hypothesis, which would be vindicated 34 years after his death using the tools of modern genetic analysis. And it was the butterfly around which some of Nabokov’s fondest childhood memories revolved.

Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, to an aristocratic family, and spent much of his childhood at the family’s country estate in Vyra, 40 miles outside of the city. The Nabokovs were forced to flee Russia in 1919 in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. After moving between England, Germany, and France, he came to the United States, returning for the final years of his life to Switzerland, where he died in 1977. Nabokov rued the loss of Vyra, and called it a “break with [his] destiny.”

Lepidoptera and Nabokov’s childhood home were inseparable to him, an idea he explored in his letters and his science. Especially in his autobiography, Speak, Memory (1951, book preview), he identifies Vyra as the place where his love for butterflies began. In this book Nabokov recalls the “original event” of his “collecting life” when he made his first butterfly capture at age seven. His governess had tried to kill the insect by locking it up in a wardrobe overnight. In the morning, the persistent butterfly flew out and through the window. Nabokov, recalling this event five decades later, projects himself back into his seven-year-old self, and imagines the butterfly soaring far away — eventually to America.

We all have such fateful objects — it may be a recurrent landscape in one case, a number in another — carefully chosen by the gods to attract events of specific significance for us: here shall John always stumble; there shall Jane’s heart always break.

(Vladimir Nabokov in “Lolita”)

After this event, Nabokov’s curiosity became an obsession. When he was eight years old, he brought a butterfly to his father who had been imprisoned for political activities. After his family escaped from the bolsheviks in 1917 going to Crimea, he studied butterflies to ward off homesickness. When he fled the Nazis to the United States in 1940, he took the job of Curator of Lepidoptera at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), where he spent his time sorting and mounting butterflies for up to 14 hours a day, and collecting butterflies around the country. Nabokov eventually published 18 science papers in the field of lepidoptery, which he pursued alongside his full-time careers as a novelist and professor of Russian literature.

His most significant work there focused on the Polyommatus, part of a butterfly group colloquially known as the blues and found in higher altitudes such as the South American Andes, and also in the western U.S. A classical taxonomist, Nabokov synthesized observations based on roughly 120 specimens from MCZ’s collection, and others borrowed from various museums. In 1945, he developed a theory on butterfly evolution, based on his examination of the Polyommatus blues, affirming that they had been journeying in five waves from Asia over the Bering Strait south into Chile before going north to the New World. Although his theories were dismissed by contemporary lepidopterists, in 2011 the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London announced that after using gene-sequencing technology it had been confirmed that Nabokov was completely right in his theory.

Today, Nabokov is seen as a substantial scientist, affording a new window onto his literary work. His lepidoptery is seen as one motivation for his writing, rather than as a distraction. Yet Nabokov did not say much about the connection. He commented obliquely in an interview that there “is a sort of merging between the two things”. But it is a fusion of art and science —- in particular his search for alpine butterflies of the sort that reminded him of Vyra -— that characterize his travels to the American Rockies in the 1940s and 1950s. As Brian Boyd writes in his introduction to Nabokov’s Butterflies, it was during his time in the U.S. that Nabokov “intensified his desire to explore entomology within his art”.

Although I am capable, through long dabbling in blue magic, of imitating any prose in the world (but singularly enough not verse — I am a miserable rhymester), I do not consider myself a true artist, save in one matter: I can do what only a true artist can do — pounce upon the forgotten butterfly of revelation, wean myself abruptly from the habit of things, see the web of the world, and the warp and the weft of that web.

(Vladimir Nabokov in “Pale Fire”)

Butterflies bookend Nabokov’s life. They were so entwined with his novel that Nabokov celebrated an especially important find — discovering the first known female of Lycaeides sublivens above Telluride (Colo) in the summer of 1951 — by making the town the site of Lolita’s final scene. Also, he wrote himself into the screenplay of Stanley Kubrick’s film version of Lolita  [trailer] as a whimsical collector to whom Humbert and Lolita turn for driving directions, the radiator grill of their car plastered with dead butterflies. The part was never filmed.

Even when the book made him wealthy, Nabokov never bought a house, and lived his final years in a hotel in Switzerland, where he moved in 1961. He explained in an interview that “nothing short of a replica of [his] childhood surroundings would have satisfied [him]… So why trouble with hopeless approximations?” Ensconced in the Swiss Alps, Nabokov’s life wound down while he pursued his great passion. Out hunting for butterflies one day, he fell twice trying to retrieve his dropped net. A cable car operator observed a man lying down but didn’t stop, saying later that he saw him laughing and didn’t think he needed help. Nabokov remained unable to get up and was still there when the tour bus drove by 2.5 hours later. Greatly weakened by the fall, he never recovered, confiding to his son that a “certain butterfly was already on the wing,” and that he would not be able to pursue it.

Today it is possible to trace the legacy of the writer and scientist in the motion and migration of the butterflies he studied. Nabokov once wrote that, had he not left Russia, he might have spent his life entirely on lepidoptery, and not fiction. So, at heart, was Nabokov a scientist or an artist? Asked that question once, he expressed puzzlement: “There can be no science without fancy,” he replied “no art without facts.

(Excerpts from Speak, Butterfly, by Mary Ellen Hannibal – December 19, 2013)

I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness — in a landscape selected at random — is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern — to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.

(Vladimir Nabokov)


1, 2 e 3  ::  Thomas Krauss (Flickr)

4 e 5  ::  fotógrafos desconhecidos (unknown photographers)

6  ::  Emily P.

7 e 8  ::  fotógrafo desconhecido (unknown photographer)

9 e 10  ::  Marco Matteucci (Flickr)

11  ::  fotógrafo desconhecido (unknown photographer — via Au Revoir Les Enfant)

12  ::  Elena Karneeva

13 e 14  ::  via 100 Layer Cake-let

** Se você conhecer os fotográfos que não mencionamos, por favor nos avise!  (If you know some of the photographers we have not mentioned, please let us know! )  😉

Em um cantinho silencioso do mundo…

Difícil fotografar o silêncio.

Entretanto tentei. Eu conto:

Madrugada a minha aldeia estava morta.

Não se ouvia um barulho, ninguém passava entre as casas.

Eu estava saindo de uma festa.

Eram quase quatro da manhã.

Ia o Silêncio pela rua carregando um bêbado.

Preparei minha máquina.

O silêncio era um carregador?

Estava carregando o bêbado.

Fotografei esse carregador.

Tive outras visões naquela madrugada.

Preparei minha máquina de novo.

Tinha um perfume de jasmim no beiral de um sobrado.

Fotografei o perfume.

Vi uma lesma pregada na existência mais do que na


Fotografei a existência dela.

Vi ainda um azul-perdão no olho de um mendigo.

Fotografei o perdão.

Olhei uma paisagem velha a desabar sobre uma casa.

Fotografei o sobre.

Foi difícil fotografar o sobre.

Por fim eu enxerguei a ‘Nuvem de calça’.

Representou para mim que ela andava na aldeia de

braços com Maiakowski – seu criador.

Fotografei a ‘Nuvem de calça’ e o poeta.

Ninguém outro poeta no mundo faria uma roupa

mais justa para cobrir a sua noiva.

A foto saiu legal.

Manoel de Barros  |  “O Fotógrafo”

(Poesia Completa. Leya, p. 379)

Posted by: Jussara

Posted by: Jussara

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