My House Spiders

One might find it shocking to discover that, on any day, in my very own home - in the hills looking down on peaceful Santa Barbara, California - there are scorpions, black widows or big hairy tarantulas afoot. The sheer number of spiders I found in my new house would probably have caused most people to break escrow. At first I made an effort to carry them outside, one by one, as I found them. Months passed of uneasy cohabitation, but I eventually discovered staring at the invaders through my camera lens helped substantially. I began to see how fragile and beautiful they were. How each species differed remarkably both in appearance and behavior. I even began to appreciate differences between individuals within the same species - a bent or missing leg, a fuzzier back. I looked closer and closer and slowly began to like what I saw. Dealing with spiders as photographic subjects was a whole other thing in itself. What was immediately evident was that they were all scared of me. I had to work with them carefully and quietly to win them over.

To date I have 30 species on film, which excludes the tiny species that my lens cannot do justice. While cobweb spiders are a dime a dozen, the number of species we have seen has been surprising and continues to grow. I want to share with others a closer look at how beautiful these creatures are . . . how different they are and how non-threatening. Really. You will never meet a more demure, poised and graceful creature than a big hairy tarantula.

This is a living bug collection. None was hurt in any way. I enjoy them without harming or keeping them. Often, I let them go where I found them. And frankly, I am bothered by large cases of "sacrificed" organisms with pins through their backs. Photography - uniquely - permits me to collect, study, and marvel at these creatures at a cost of no more than a moments' inconvenience to them. The frames I have chosen for these spiders are reminiscent of specimen boxes - and are an acknowledgement of the aesthetic properties that drove us for centuries to collect and arrange them in a manner befitting their visual power.

Don't worry if you don't immediately and deeply share my fascination. Someone crossing upon these photos could not possibly soon appreciate the thrill I get each time I find a new spider. But if you'll take a second look at these creatures . . . well . . . I can't make any promises, but I can tell you what it's done for me: It began as a means of coping, then slowly unfolded into a rewarding collection of beautiful images. Finally, one day, it struck me with delighted satisfaction that I had gone from minding . . . to no longer minding. . . the spider under my bed. In short, I had taken a long and, maybe even, profound journey inside my own little house

. . . but yes, I still take tarantulas, violin spiders and black widows outside.

Cristine McConnell