On January 1, 2021 Frenchman David Weiller found a unique way to greet people a happy new year – on his YouTube channel, he posted a six-and-a-half minute video of monarch butterflies fluttering by the thousands and landing on a tree. All the ambient sounds were captured too – the birds, crickets. There was no music on the video, no commentary. Just the butterflies fluttering, going about their day in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Researve, Mexico; the tree so laden that you could not tell if what you saw were butterfly wings or leaves.
Weiller, 43, calls this “meditation biology” – he carries his camera to different parts of the world to capture images of creatures that city dwellers rarely see. And he posts videos with no commentary or music, only natural sounds.
On December 28, 2020, Weiller posted a video from the rainforests of Borneo that was less than a minute long – a mantis, deep in concentration, is meditating too as it lays its eggs. And the viewer can see the eggs emerge like froth, as the mantis squeezes it out, its nether parts twitching. From the forests of Costa Rica, he captured hummingbirds, with all the twittering in the background.
Another video is of a metallic blue paper wasp, busily building its home. On this too, the sounds in the background are all clearly audible. This was shot in Tambopata, in the Amazon rainforests of Peru.
There is a wealth of such sights to see on the website of this 43-year-old, who documents the creatures of the rainforest as a hobby. He has been at the photography for 15 years, beginning when his friend Thomas Marent asked if he would go with him to Tanzania in 2008 – on that trip, he filmed chimpanzees in the Jane Goodall Gombe National Park.
Ever since, fascinated by the rich diversity of the rainforests, he has travelled for about two months each year, filming the tiny inhabitants of rainforests. “The most difficult part is to find what I want to film. For primates, mammals and birds, it’s important to find a place where they are used to people, so they are a bit less shy,” he says, over email.
Weiller says he does some background research, so he can find a good guide and also settle on the best season to visit. “It needs a lot of luck. Sometimes you can get a good shot in five minutes. Or you need maybe one day or one week, for example, when you have to wait and hide for a certain species of bird or mammal to appear. It needs patience and endurance; what is even more important is not to give up.”
Weiller holds a Masters degree in physics, and his routine work has nothing to do with photography. It is only rarely that he can sell his videos, so he continues to do it as a hobby, without the expectation of being able to make a living from it.
Does research on the creatures he films take a lot of time? “When I’m in the field, I photograph many more animals than the main target species. So it is only afterwards that I can read about them and understand their biology and evolution. I mostly find the material I need online; I also occasionally buy specialized books. But I’m not a researcher…I don’t need to go very deep. I focus on the pictures and the filming.”
He hopes that his images will evoke an interest in younger viewers. “I want to raise awareness; I’d like young people to study these fields. Even for those who just want to sit and relax, especially in these COVID times, I hope the images will help them immerse in the rainforest. I call it meditation biology.” To view more videos, visit: https://www.youtube.com/c/DavidWeiller
Rosamma Thomas is an independent journalist