Outdoor lavatory becomes natural history laboratory

Spiders star in scholar’s photographic study

June 6, 2013

Source: Tim Edgar

No flush, just a pair: insect life and death in the outhouse is focus of a book

It’s a common worry for anyone using an outside loo: you place your bare behind on the seat praying that a creepy-crawly does not choose that precise moment to scurry out from underneath. However, for one photography academic whose outdoor lavatory became a studio for his ­latest book, this would appear to be an ideal scenario.

Tim Edgar, senior lecturer in photography at the Arts University Bournemouth, began taking photos of the insect life in the outdoor commode at his house in Swanage three years ago. It was, he said, a compelling enough reason not to get rid of the ageing building.

“It’s a kind of lean-to on the side of the house that has a toilet in it,” he said. “It’s seen better days; it’s half falling down and we’ve been thinking about replacing it.

“[But] four years ago I was having a look at it and saw more and more cobwebs emerge. I was looking for a new photographic project to do with natural history and habitat so I started to observe the ­spiders.

“It’s very difficult to get rid of it now. I had to explain to my wife and family that there is some lovely new stuff there. My wife is fine about it, but when it starts letting in water we’ll have to make a decision then.”

The culmination of the project was a recently published book, Insect Theatre, in which his images are accompanied by text by anthropologist Hugh Raffles. Nevertheless, Mr Edgar acknowledged that his shed was not the most conventional of settings for a photographic series.

He said that he has always been drawn to “unspectacular natural history” – forgotten, everyday wildlife – and enjoys trying to bring it to life.

“The second section of the book’s photos are bugs on a window ledge, and obviously what’s happening is that the insects are falling down from the cobwebs above on to the shelf,” he said.

“I think that’s where the idea of the theatre came from. That ledge is almost like a stage [on to which] characters fall. As the years go by…characters disappear and new ones arrive. A constant cast of theatrical performers.”

While pleased with his efforts, Mr Edgar was keen to point out that his family did not bypass general standards of cleanliness in their house.

“It looks like we don’t bother about cleanliness or hygiene; we’re pretty good on it generally. But that one area was left to go crazy,” he said.

john.elmes@tsleducation.com

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