Benjamin Timpson’s luminous portraits are constructed of butterfly wings, each visage delineated through mysterious patterns and complex interplay of color and iridescence. The delicate biological relics are responsibly sourced by the artist, deconstructed according to their unique markings, then pieced over the artist’s rough sketch on a lightbox and photographed at various stages of illumination. Timpson, a photographer who has been experimenting with positive/negative images and transmitted light for over two decades, has become familiar with the wings’ singular physical qualities – the microscopic structures that emit light and color, and the differences in these structures from species to species. The resulting compositions are both enigmatic and uncannily specific; an organic delineation that shifts depending on the viewer’s position as well as the light in which they are seen.
A descendant of Puebloan peoples, Timpson’s transcendent works portray Indigenous women who have been the victim of sexual assault and murder – a population that is four times more likely to experience such violence. Some of his subjects are found through historical research, while others are contemporaries who partner with Timpson to articulate the injury to a community when its daughters and matriarchs are attacked, as well as speak to the beauty of memory and survival.
Timpson sees these portraits as a metaphor for the significance of individual lives impacted by cultural violence, and as a way of examining the horrors of centuries-long exploitation of Native lands and cultures. Yet Timpson considers his work an act of hope and catharsis. The artist remarks: “The butterfly is appropriate because there’s a metamorphosis that takes place with these portraits; my work is about giving voice to the voiceless, and bringing to light the lives of these women.”