Surviving is the intention for the frogs that camp in the 'balsa de los sapos', life rafts for frogs in Ecuador. Peter Lipton photographed them, fascinated by the creatures with an average length of 7 cm, sparkling colors, some transparent like the crystal frog with whom you can see the heart beat. With legs with cute toes and eyes with two eyelids, the lowered second protective eyelid gives the frogs an extraterrestrial appearance. They seem to look into the camera without being motionless. In practice it was anything but motionless. Many frogs jumped away during the shooting. Locations were the walls and the ceiling.
Balso de los sapos
Lipton ended up with a detour at the ‘balso de los sapos’. After his internship at the newspaper Volkskrant at the end of his training, he was allowed to choose a destination to make free work. It became the Amazon region. Deep in the jungle he encountered an Indian tribe, living in a traditional way without any idea of what possession means. Until oil companies were allowed to drill for oil here. Complexes as large as the Maasvlakte (Rotterdam harbor) appeared in the untouched nature. A network of pipes, high fences, huge oil barrels and drill pipes out of use with a cage around it and grit on the ground, so that nothing more grows, detonate the area. On a regular basis, there are deaths among the Indians due to battles with security guards with whom they have to negotiate at once about land that they own. After the documentary work that Lipton made here, he moved on to the ‘balsa de los sapos’, the life rafts for frogs.
With skin and hair in the archive
Photographing is only one of the actions in identifying, categorizing, in short, capturing the frogs in detail, up to and including their DNA. The amphibians are here to protect them from extinction. Threats are: diseases, fungal infections and climate change.
It is made as much as possible to their liking. From the most ‘noisy room in the center’, because of the insect grooming and grubbing, they get personally grown food like grasshoppers, mealworms, flies and larvae. When they die, they finally end up with skin and hair in the archive, where there are already endless rows of glass jars the size of a jam jar. All of them white labeled with an extremely accurate description of who they are, or were. Their DNA has been kept separate, so that if the technology is so far, their species can still be brought to life.
Eye for beauty
Liptons’ patience, curiosity and eye for details will also be visible in the next project he is working on: photographing insects. From one insect he makes about 160 to 300 photos with a limited depth of field. A software program calculates the most sharp particle of each photo and then builds up the overall picture. Result: beautiful detailed photos where the insect is no longer an insect, but a beautiful reproduction of a special object, soft-haired or with fluorescent colors.
Report: Carla van Gaalen
Photo credits: Ron Magielse