UI graduate student beautifies the world of insects through scenic photography

Graduate student Neva Nobles-Alder grew up in a North Carolinian fishing community that dunked her into nature; the environmental inclination mixed with an artistic instinct has led to her beautifying what many are afraid of — insects.


Emily Wangen

Neva Nobles-Alder poses for a portrait with part of her collection of bugs on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. She uses these bugs, which she acquires post mortem, along with other three-dimensional art to make photographs. Nobles-Alder is a graduate student at the University of Iowa studying photography and book arts.

Kyler Johnson, Arts Reporter

Walking into her cubicle-style office, it’s easy to see third-year photography graduate student Neva Nobles-Alder has developed an eclectic personal environment. Model settings, pinned insects, and miniturely-crafted books show a diversity in her artistry.

Having grown up on an island in the fishing community of Manteo, North Carolina, and seeing an art therapist before the age of 10, nature and art intertwined themselves into Nobles-Alder’s life at a young age.


“Where I come from, the concern about the environment and being involved in nature — it’s all you have to do there,” she said. “It was either being involved in nature or less than scruple things,” she continued, laughing.

Nobles-Alder, who originally started her artistry in illustration and painting, spent most of her time in this community out in the woods. These rooted experiences in nature led to a similar intent in her photography.

Nobles-Alder shines a spotlight of beauty on natural moments, focusing her photographic work on what many might find terrifying — insects.

“A lot of people find insects to be horrible,” Nobles-Alder said. “They hate them, or they find them to be disgusting — it’s never anything good.”

Her graduate work consists of taking constructed model sculptures she has fashioned to replicate real environments. Using this, she took pinned insects to craft a photographable interaction between setting and insect.

Nobles-Alder said the project’s artificial take on nature has allowed her to continue exploring her interests during Iowa’s harsh winters, void of most any bugs. As a maturing artist, her current work has also permitted self-realization in regard to her artistic style.

“In art history, we’re barraged with painting and illustration,” she said. ”I never really realized how strong of an impact the Romantic art movement and Impressionist paintings had on me.”

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Nobles-Alder, in her final year of the program, said she would like to continue work in academia. Her third year as an M.F.A. has already given her some experience instructing courses to younger UI students.

And while helping others develop, Nobles-Alder is still developing skills and artistic projects beyond that of the photographic domain. Partaking in the UI’s Center for the Book, she has crafted several books pertaining to her artistic motif of nature.

One such book acted as a window gaze into a forest, allowing the viewer to flip through and dissect individual layers.

In her primary focus degree-wise, Nobles-Alder said she sticks to digital photography. She said this is done more out of convenience, as the UI lacks the necessary facilities to develop colored film photographs.

Nobles-Alder said surrendering to black and white would limit the total scope and power over her creation. However, the photography student said she does have a fond admiration for the art.

“There’s something really magical about working in the dark room watching your work develop in the dark room,” Nobles-Alder said. “But I like having the hands-on element during all of the steps; if I can’t do that then I’m not going to do it.”

For the artist, stunning digital images will be route, inviting people into a world of no-longer creepy-crawlies — just tiny inhabitants of the world moving in their own beautiful way.

“Really good art will stop you in your tracks,” she said. “It maybe won’t overtly knock you over, but it makes you pause and invite you to move further in. That doesn’t mean the invitation is beautiful and wonderful — it just has to have gravity.”