Sarah Urwin Jones

The parlous state of our climate and the catastrophically declining insect population are at the heart of this new exhibition by photographer Kit Martin. Reports of this worrying and huge loss of insect life and diversity underline the fact that insect life underpins the existence of much life – plant and animal – on Earth.

Global warming and habitat loss, particularly of wild areas, are key issues, as is the use of pesticides. The fight against neonicotinoid insecticides which has concerned many over the past few years is important precisely because the substance kills bees (and other insects) in vast swathes. If we lose our bees, hugely important pollinators, we lose our crops – and endanger all life, our own included, that rely on them.

This is the concern behind photographer Kit Martin's latest exhibition, although she points out that the work does not appear overtly political. “It is more about a celebration of insect life...they don't seem to get quite as much attention as climate change, but the situation is so serious. I felt I wanted to show them off a wee bit,” she says. Her primary concern in creating her photographic prints, hanging from the ceiling in embroidery hoops, printed on to paper or mounted on lightboxes, is aesthetics.

Her work is distinct in marrying her interest in insects with her interest both in historic photographic processes and in museums and their collections. For this show, she has been fossicking in the special entomology collections of the Museum of Scotland at Granton in Edinburgh as well as picking her own wildflowers to use in both digital and cyanotype photography.

A large part of the show is rooted in the imaging of antique herbarium specimens, particularly from the museum at the University of Dundee. “These are specimens collected from the 1840s onwards,” she says. “They were all collected from Tayside, beautiful specimens, and I suppose to me they just languish in the stores. I love seeing them myself, but I also love showing them to other people.”

It is similar to previous work she has done with other museum collections throughout the UK.

Martin is attracted to the idea of the history of the objects, and the fact that she cannot know the whole history of the object. “I don't necessarily know the story, but I can feel something about it, of it having been collected and really cared for and stored away.” It is both the history and the sense of care for these tiny fragile specimens of Nature that appeals to Martin. “It gives you hope,” she says.

Martin's background is not, perhaps, a conventional art photographer's background. Studying Biological Imaging at the University of Derby, she moved into police photography, “Not scene of crime, but working alongside them. The photography department were called out when it was a particularly nasty incident...” she says. Working in medical photography, too, she moved on, some few years later, going back to university to study Environmental Management, then working with organisations such as the Scottish Wildlife Trust for a number of years before returning to photography.

“I started exploring more historic processes. I'd tried cyanotype work at Derby and really enjoyed it. I've always enjoyed being in a darkroom. It's the making I enjoy,” she says. “I don't enjoy sitting at a computer, which is what you do when you're doing digital photography. It's just not enough for me.”

The cyanotype is a form of photography, discovered in 1842, that produces a cyan-blue print, and is most familiar, perhaps, for its use in blueprints. Martin's subjects are bees and flowers, collected together, pollinators placed with the flowers they pollinate, other insects too, produced in the ethereally beautiful blue and white prints, on cotton, linen and jute paper – the exhibition taking place in Verdant Works, the former Jute mill that is now a museum. “I tried to print on jute fabric,” says Martin, “but without much success.”

She did, however, print on to linen, which links in to the history of the building as, originally, a flax mill for making linen.

The work is part of an ongoing series of works with museums, from the Scottish Fisheries Museum at Anstruther, for whom she made cyanotypes of seaweed from the shore, to Perth Museum, for whom she made cyanotypes of skeletons, from fish to leaves. As part of this exhibition, Martin will give a workshop on making cyanotypes on Saturday 11th May, and a talk on the process and Martin's own research later that afternoon. A fascinating insight into the world of insects and of photography itself.

Kit Martin: Fray, Verdant Works, West Henderson's Wynd, Dundee, 01382 309060 Mon - Sat, 10am - 6pm; Sun 11am - 6pm Admission Free