Mary West Quin: 100 Butterflies: A Prayer for Peace
Mary West Quin is a photographer and educator based in Alabama. In her recent series 100 Butterflies: A Prayer for Peace, she created one hundred platinum palladium contact prints of found butterflies. The remains were collected on walks with her children and on a butterfly migratory path located on a 2- lane road she traveled on her daily commute. As Quin navigated her own path within a world full of challenging social and political complexities, she chose to take a step back and contemplate the migratory journey of butterflies, whose cyclical lives exemplify constant movement and survival. When life seems overwhelming and full of uncertainties, A Prayer for Peace is welcome.
100 Butterflies: A Prayer for Peace
This project began as my children’s school project brought the hatching of butterflies into our home and has grown into a family project that engages issues of nutrition, microclimates and global migration of all living things.
On their journey, butterflies, like children, are drawn to the light of a window as their urge to expand their world becomes real. My children began asking questions about migration at a time when many of the butterflies did not survive. I began to contemplate a creative path to memorialize their ill-fated journey.
Meanwhile the number of individuals forced into global migration was on the rise, with millions of families fleeing poverty, politics, natural disasters, religious freedoms and more, many of whom sought asylum at our border but were turned away.
After much experimentation, I decided to produce “photogram” prints of the butterflies with light sensitive chemistry. I hand coat the paper with platinum palladium solution, let it dry, gently lay out the butterfly parts on the solution coated paper and expose the paper to UV light. I produce these prints in sets of 100, entitled “One Hundred Butterflies: A Prayer for Peace.” The process is meditative, reflective and insightful.
The migration dialogue grew, in our lives and in our broader communities. In our home it began with the butterflies and their journey became a metaphor for life. I read books and listened to interviews with novelists and poets who spoke of the human need to move through the world. Many of these writers spoke of the paradoxes of life, of freedom and imprisonment, perfection and deficiency, order and chaos. Migration is a timeless and necessary journey riddled with contradictions.
As of this writing our family has made three trips to visit the National Butterfly Center (.org) in Mission, Texas, a 100-acre research wildlife center and native species botanical garden on the United States side of the nearby Rio Grande River which serves as the local border separating U.S. territory from Mexico – a line through which butterflies pass freely yet humans are blocked. While borders are a necessary fact of life, the distinction between movement of people and other species is arbitrary and discretionary. In the fight to create a line, we have criminalized the basic human need to migrate to safety.
I continue to produce the “100 Butterflies: A Prayer for Peace” prints; each set is staged in a symbolic spiral of life.
Quin works with a traditional view camera to create large negatives (8×10) to produce platinum palladium contact prints. She stays grounded in the historical roots and questions of photography—permanence and concerns of objectivity.
Her work has been exhibited nationally and rests in many private collections. Quin had solo exhibitions in at The Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, New York (2016 and 2017) and Nadine Blake in New Orleans (2017 and 2018).
She holds an BS in Anthropology from Millsaps College in Jackson, MS, an MA in Philosophy the University of Southern Mississippi and an MFA in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design.
Currently, she lives and works in the Deep South which serves as a crucible for her continued work.
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