Every beachgoer has seen them, avoided them in fear, and dismissed them as a nuisance. But what we uninformed humans fail to realize is that these creatures are more incredible than we ever could have imagined. No form of manmade art can compare to the intricate, complex, and vibrant patterns seen in these portraits. These species are more 'supranatural' than we realize, and when viewed at a 1:1 ratio and mirrored, we finally can see how closely related they are to the universe around us. They are called zooids, a colonial animal that can only survive when connected with other zooids of a different nature.
These particular zooids, captured by fine-art macro photographer, Aaron Ansarov, are part of a series of four unique zooids called the dactylozooids (the hunters), gastrozooids (the eaters), gonozooids (the reproducers), and the pneumatophores (the sailors). Each has its individual personality, but collectively exist as a single being with a shared goal of survival. Together, they are more commonly known as the Portuguese Man o' War.
Not much is known about these creatures, other than the fact that they are responsible each year for more than 10,000 documented stings worldwide. But now, for the first time ever, Aaron Ansarov has put faces to these hidden creatures. As if looking through a special lens into a different dimension, Aaron has given them personalities that seems to shift with every viewer. Through Aaron's masterful use of light, technique, and ability to go beyond the obvious, we are able to see patterns come together to create a fine-art collection of images entitled, Zooids: Faces of Tiny Warriors—beautiful creatures seeking their place in the world.
The Portuguese man o’ war is not a jellyfish. It is a siphonophore: a colony of specialized, genetically identical zooids that work together as one. The man o’war’s tentacles average 30 feet in length and may extend over 100 feet. The tentacles deliver venom that can kill small fish and cause people a good deal of pain (if usually no lasting problems beyond a welt).
The Florida-based photographer Aaron Ansarov set off to document them in a unique way. Bad weather days are the ones most likely to strand man o’war on the beach, so that’s when he ventures to the beach with his wife (also a professional photographer) and two children to find them. His wife will collect them in an empty cooler—at which point he brings the still-living man o’ war back to his homemade light table. Once the photos are complete, he returns the man o’ war to the beach and the wild.
Ansarov takes two approaches to photographing the man o’ war, with some photos focusing on the “purity of the creatures,” such as these ones below.
Others are more about creating “fantastic patterns,” which he calls “Rorschachum Natura,” like these ones.
You can discover more of The Zooid Collection and other work by Ansarov on his site; prints are sold at San Diego’s T Short Galleries. Watch below to see Ansarov (and his family) at work.