Photographs by Tine Poppe
This article was published online on March 13, 2021.
When you are an ant, the stakes are always high. There are those who would eat you—birds, snakes, bigger bugs—and those who could trample you and your environment in a single sneakered step. These enormous beings may not mean you any harm, but it is impact, not intention, that matters most.
To envision how an ant might see its world, the Norwegian photographer Tine Poppe places her camera in the dirt of a meadow, lens pointing up. Poppe can never see what the photo will look like; even while she’s lying in the grass, her eyes are still too far from the earth. But she can imagine it: green-stemmed flowers erupting toward the clouds, a weed whorling like a spiral staircase, blades of grass bending like the Gateway Arch. Sometimes there are even unexpected visitors that escape Poppe’s notice until she returns to Oslo and discovers, in the corner of the image, an orblike snail nestled in a leaf.
Poppe took these photos for three summers, driving around Norway in search of open fields with no trees overhead to block the view. Sometimes, while she rooted around in the weeds to place her camera, the meadow resisted—thorns scratched her arm and insects bit her fingers. But it was worthwhile, Poppe told me. “It was like moving into another universe,” she said. “One that we are sharing, only we can’t see it.” If an ant sees a field this way, so lofty and pinnacled, how might it perceive a forest?
Poppe’s work elevates the miniature, unseen worlds around us and the creatures that depend on them. Her images ask us, on a planet we have degraded, to reconsider trampling the flowers.
This article appears in the April 2021 print edition with the headline “Looking Up.”