Photographer reveals the other Vladimir Nabokov

Fiona Pardington
Nabokov’s Blues: The Charmed Circle
Starkwhite Gallery
Until July 23

Vladimir Nabokov may have been one of the most significant novelists of the 20th century but he was also one of its leading lepidopterists. This interest in butterflies was more than merely collecting them. He worked at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology for many years and developed a hypothesis for the evolution of the butterflies known as the Polyommatus blues

He once said: ‘Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man."

Photographer Fiona Pardington who has spent the past 20 years photographing collections around the world – birds, mushrooms, plaster life casts, hei tiki, fragments of archival handwriting – has more recently embarked on documenting Nabokov’s collection.

In many of her photographs she has examined the intersection of sex, life and death, along with an interest in the surface, texture and history and spiritual aura of the objects.

In this latest exhibition, she combines these interests with the literature and scientific research of Nabokov, travelling to a dozen museums, examining documents and objects that give an insight into the world of butterflies as well as the author.

Lolita and several of his other novels have references to butterflies and Humbert Humbert, the narrator and protagonist of Lolita, makes observations of the young woman that are akin to the observations of evolving and emerging pupae. The obsessive nature of Humbert seems to be mirrored in the obsessive nature of Nabokov the lepidopterist.

She has photographed only butterflies that Nabokov caught and killed, words written by him and diagrams drawn by him: The photographs and diagrams of the butterflies, their structures, designs and colourings show the obsession Nabokov had with his areas of inquiry.

Pardington takes his research to a new level in several of the photographs where she has used microscopy cameras so the details and colours of the butterflies are explored and expanded to look more like abstract sculptures and paintings.

Limited edition prints of the works are in two sizes at $16,000 and $11,000 (unframed).

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