Does This Photograph of a Yellow Butterfly Tell the Tale of Life and Death?

Jo Whaley uses the image of a yellow butterfly and an old daguerreotype to convey the story of life and death

When Jo Whaley heard that the Greek word for butterfly was the same as the word for soul, she was inspired to capture this shot of a yellow butterfly. Here she explains the story behind her intriguing photograph.

The Cycle of Life and Death

Jo Whaley: This photograph of a yellow butterfly shows an old daguerreotype of two women with their hands folded. On top of them is a yellow butterfly. We don’t see their faces at all.

I think I mentioned earlier about my research where I would work with an etymologist and have conversations with her. It was this etymologist who wrote the essay in my book. Linda Wiener is her name.

At one point she said, “Jo, do you know that the ancient Greek word for butterfly is the same word for soul?” That just sparked my imagination immediately. I went, “Whoa, it’s like a metaphor, that going from a caterpillar to a cocoon, the insect actually liquefies and reemerges as a butterfly, and then only lives for a couple weeks, and then dies.”

That, as a metaphor for our bodies passing into some other reality just gave me chills so in the book, you’ll see a number of images that use the decayed photographic image of a person who is now dead. I’m using that sense of a metaphor of the soul moving on as a butterfly.

I should share with you, Audri, and your listeners, what that word is. That word is psyche, which is of course the root of psychology and it’s also the goddess of love, which I just love. That came from research and conversations with the etymologist.

In Summary

Not all butterfly pictures are the same, and Jo Whaley’s photos definitely tend to buck the trend. This yellow butterfly shot may not be your typical butterfly portrait, but it offers more depth and drama than the average photograph could ever hope to provide.

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