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Tulsa native Thomas Shahan’s popular online photography zooms in on some of Oklahoma’s most microscopic creatures for rare and dynamic close-ups.
By GORDON GRICE
Photography by THOMAS SHAHAN
“There’s another Scotty dog,” my grandmother would say, and sure enough, there it would go scooting up the wall in jerky little leaps. Sometimes we’d see one on the screen door, a moth in its mouth. It looked like a diner startled in the act of wiping his mouth on a folded napkin.
These “dogs” were jumping spiders. With their big eyes and fangs that dangled like mustaches, they looked like tiny terriers. As a kid fascinated with bugs, I stared at a lot of jumping spiders. Recently, though, I came closer to them than I ever had before.
In a photo by Tulsa native and University of Oklahoma art student Thomas Shahan, I looked into the eyes of a Thiodina puerpera. Black bristles sprouted like eyelashes above massive metallic green eyes. A smaller pair of eyes bracketed the big ones like punctuation marks. The head was the color of a smoggy sunset, while the biting gear looked like corroded copper.
It was Shahan’s page on the photo-hosting website Flickr that brought me face to face with this eerily beautiful animal. But Shahan didn’t stop with one jumping spider. Oklahoma is home to at least forty kinds, and Shahan is on a mission to photograph them all, each in astounding close-ups.
“How one of the most beautiful and interesting groups of animals on the planet can go unrecognized and unappreciated is beyond me,” he says.
Shahan is doing his part to change that. So far, he’s photographed thirty-six jumping spiders. His Flickr page also shows larger objects: the Milky Way galaxy, for example, and a scaly-looking slice of the moon.
Shahan is a connoisseur of cameras, and his captions note what type of equipment, including vintage lenses and macro extension tubes, he used for each shot. He leaves none of the settings to automation.
“I trust my own judgment more than the camera’s,” he says.
Thanks to Flickr and other Internet outlets, Shahan’s photos already have caught the eyes of people around the world—one topped 50,000 views in twenty-four hours. His work has been published on the Huffington Post and in magazines like Discover, Popular Science, and Popular Photography. In 2009, he even appeared with Al Roker on the Today show.
As he and Roker talked, Shahan held a plastic container. Inside was a specimen of Phidippus pius, an Oklahoma treasure with big dark eyes that photograph green and bright.