Hyalophora cecropia

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Photograph by Alexander Clair. Dye transfer from Kodachrome* original.

Cecropia.JPG

Hyalophora cecropia – Cecropia moth, Rochester, N.Y., ca. 1950. For more background, see below the fold.

*Kodachrome has just been discontinued after approximately 75 years.

Alexander Clair was an early color photographer, who worked on the dye-transfer process at Kodak Research Laboratories in the mid-1930’s. In 1937, he drove across the country with his new wife and his view camera. One of the functions of the wife was to hold a colored gelatin filter in front of the lens in order to prepare the separation negatives needed for the dye transfer. My wife, his daughter, still has a handful of his dye-transfer prints.

Two musicians, Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowski, working on their own, invented what eventually became Kodachrome in the mid-1920’s and moved to Kodak in the early 1930’s, where the process was perfected. The film was offered for sale in 1936. It was a direct-positive slide film. Kodacolor print film was not available until 1942. Early Kodacolor prints were not very good and had fairly short shelf lives. So Al kept on making dye transfers, only now he made them from Kodachrome slides.

Most of Al’s dye-transfer prints were made between the late 1930’s and the 1950’s, the earlier ones without a Kodachrome intermediary. The noted photographer and gallery owner Hal Gould examined Al’s “seminal collection” and noted that the colors of the prints are “as true and fresh as when they were made.”

Finally, for purists, the early process was technically wash-off relief; dye transfer is a specific example of a wash-off relief process and was introduced in 1946. I do not know when, if ever, Al switched from generic wash-off relief to dye transfer.

10 Comments

I remember the first time I caught one of these; I was about ten years old. It was bigger and had a thicker body than any butterfly I had ever seen, but I encountered it at night. It was almost as big as a bat.

My heart was pounding, partly with fear that it might be poisonous and bite me, but also with complete fascination with its beauty and size. I didn’t learn what it was until a few days later when a relative told me that it was a Cecropia moth.

p.s. I used to work at the Kodak Research Labs.

Over-sized sweaters beware…

When I was five I found a cecropia caterpillar in my back yard (Rapid City, SD) – I believe it was eating some maple leaves. If you’ve ever seen the cecropia caterpillar you’ll understand why I decided I had to keep the thing. The caterpillar is perhaps even more impressive than the moth – it is large, like a cigar, bright lime green, with rows of blue, red, and yellow horns topped with black spikes. I had no idea what it was, but I put it in a small aquarium (devoid of water and fish) with some leaves and a stick and some tin foil on top to keep it in. The thing made one of the coolest looking cocoons in a few days, and after a few days/weeks (not sure, but it didn’t seem all that long) I was able to watch it hatch. I was mesmerized and then astonished to see this enormous, spectacular insect emerge. It had large spots on its wings like eyes. My mother was both aghast and horrified. I let it go, and for years wanted to catch another one but haven’t seen one since.

Douglas Theobald said: The thing made one of the coolest looking cocoons in a few days, and after a few days/weeks (not sure, but it didn’t seem all that long) I was able to watch it hatch.

My mother once found a Luna Moth caterpillar, and similarly tended it through the cocoon stage and hatching and spreading its gorgeous wings to dry. She then took it out into the yard to watch it fly away. It flew about five feet and a Blue Jay rocketed out of a tree, snapped its wings off, swallowed the body and landed on a branch in front of my mother, tilted its head at her and squawked as if to say “More?” She still weeps with rage when she tells this story.

Paul Burnett said:

My mother once found a Luna Moth caterpillar, and similarly tended it through the cocoon stage and hatching and spreading its gorgeous wings to dry. She then took it out into the yard to watch it fly away. It flew about five feet and a Blue Jay rocketed out of a tree, snapped its wings off, swallowed the body and landed on a branch in front of my mother, tilted its head at her and squawked as if to say “More?” She still weeps with rage when she tells this story.

That’s why you’re supposed to release them at night…

So, I just read the wikipedia page and it says that they overwinter in the cocoons and emerge in the spring. I swear mine did not do that; surely I would remember keeping it through the winter (though its so long ago I guess I could be wrong – kids have no sense of time). Would it be possible for one to make its cocoon and emerge the same season?

One of these big Cecropia landed on my garage door one evening, and allowed me and my kids to examine it closely and to take photos. Luckily for it we had no inclination to capture it or touch it. I am squeamish about touching very big bugs.

i hope i can get one !

It is easy to find these big moths, and many others as well. Simply go out in the woods at night and rig up a flashlight inside a white pillowcase expanded with a wire frame. Then wait – it won’t take very long before moths of many sorts are clinging to the pillowcase, and will be quite approachable. When you have enough photos and are ready to stop, simple turn the light off, wait a few minutes, then give the bag a gentle shake, and all will be as it was.

The down side is that you can’t wear bug dope, so you must learn to love mosquitoes, as the most dedicated of bug-watchers eventually do.

doov

Take things as they come.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on July 20, 2009 12:00 PM.

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