4 min read

One Photographer's Surreal Journey Into Capturing A Poisonous Portrait

<p>YouTube/National Geographic</p>

When combat photographer and U.S. Navy veteran Aaron Ansarov wants something new to photograph, he uses a method called "double-bagging it." He has to use two pairs of Nitrile gloves because he's most often photographing a venomous Portuguese man o' war whose stingers go straight through most gloves.

(YouTube/National Geographic)

Ansarov and his wife head out to a beach near their home in Florida, and comb the beach for the creature - or creatures, more accurately. The man o' war is a siphonophore, or an animal made up of a combination of organisms, in this case four separate polyps or zooids. These are the pneumatophore, the sail-shaped structure at its top, a polyp made of reproductive organs, one of digestive organs, and its long tentacles (they can be up to 160 feet).

To create an even more spectacular image, Ansarov take the natural images and mirrors them - what he calls "Nature's Rorschach." He's made over 400 of these so far.

(Aaron Ansarov)

When he finds the creatures washed up on the beach, Ansarov carefully places them in a bucket and brings them home. For the past two years, he's been placing them on a lit background to capture stellar shots of a globally feared creature. See some of his spectacular footage:

And this hasn't been without its sacrifices.

"It's a labor of love," he told The Dodo. "Sometimes when I lean over them I get stung."

(Aaron Ansarov)

Once he's captured their likeness, Ansarov returns them to the ocean. He only takes about 15 minutes for a shoot, too.

The motivation for the project, which is called "Zooids," came from his own children. Ansarov saw his kids approach them on the beach, curious about the unusual animals.

"Of course as parents we don't ever want our children to get stung, but I also don't want them to grow up with fear," he said. "So I decided to learn more about them first and then to examine them through my lens. This is when I am then able to educate them on this creature. It was at that time I fell in love."

(YouTube/National Geographic)

See Ansarov's behind-the-scenes footage of his process here.