Bug Photographer Strives To Remove Stigma From "Creepy-Crawlies"

Dec 7, 2018

Marian Lyman Kirst in her home studio. Seen behind her is the white cube where she places insects to photograph them.
Credit Kayla Desroches / YPR

One artist in Billings is trying to spread the love for some of Montana's smaller and less-appreciated animals.

Marian Lyman Kirst catches insects she finds around Billings. She then brings them home and uses extreme close-up photography to capture their unique beauty.

Kirst photographs her subjects using a small fabric cube. She does play favorites.

Jumping spiders. They are fantastic,” she said. “They just look at with their big, googly sunglasses eyes and their little wizards eyebrows. They’ll follow you. They’re wonderful. They’re super fun to photograph. Mantidflies are also great. They’ll just sit there and clean themselves and kinda flutter their wings and walk around real slow and give you all sides. It’s really fun.”

Kirst said she loves observing bug behavior, and the hunt for them is also a form of meditation.

Beetles Kirst collected in Montana
Credit Kayla Desroches / YPR

“Part of it is that they’re so small that in order to really appreciate their natural history, you have to slow down,” she said. “And I’m a bit of a manic person, but when I’m out looking for them and observing them, I could sit in one spot for hours.”

Kirst mostly deals in live bugs, but not always.

She keeps an extensive collection of insect specimens, which she labels with where she found them and what they are.

Kirst works from home. She opened a display case resting on a bench in her studio and unpinned one of the bugs.

“This is one of the largest robber flies,” she said. “This thing sounded like a helicopter when it came and landed near me. And they think this little mustache helps protect their mouth parts.”

She returned the bug to its spot, next to a whole host of other Montana insects, including bees, beetles, and butterflies.

Kirst has collected and killed all of these insects in this case with gas.

She sees this as a necessary evil.

“Crying is a big part of this gig for me,” said Kirst. “It might seem silly, but in a way I feel like at least it shows you haven’t become completely desensitized to it. And you shouldn’t ever become desensitized to it. It’s an awful process. I don’t love it. But I see the importance of it.”

Because Kirst not only studies and photographs bugs, she also educates with them. She plans to donate her collection to the Montana Audubon Center.

These dragonflies are among the bugs Kirst has collected in Montana
Credit Kayla Desroches / YPR

“They work a lot with kids, which is hugely important,” she said. “And they’re starting now to work more with adults, and that I also think is really important in a different way because it’s from the adults that kids get scared. They take on the parents’ fear. So, if you convince the parents that there’s nothing to be afraid of and [the insects are] really awesome, then hopefully the kids will hold onto that inherit curiosity for a long time.”

Kirst is working on completing a few different cases of local bugs to donate.

Her work will be on display at This House of Books December 7, 2018 as part of Billings' ArtWalk