Snakes have been used to represent the duality of human nature in literature, religion, psychology and art for centuries. Throughout Mark Laita’s new book, Serpentine, there are quotes to remind us that snakes are the manifestation of good and evil—the beauty and the bite of the serpent. Yet the reptiles take on another level of representation in Laita’s images, becoming abstract patterns and colors and forms.
By photographing the scaled carnivores on a simple black background, as Laita has done with other animals, they pop off the page and for a moment, we forget how dangerous these beautiful creatures can be. A timber rattlesnake wrapped around itself, the mesmerizing pattern of its stripes ending in a shock of blue before its rattle reminds you of its venomous bite. The sleek silver of the Mexican black kingsnake is so deceivingly shimmery, it comes as a surprise to learn it eats its own kind, not to mention birds, mammals and other reptiles.
The serpents’ pliable bodies twist and turn into more than just a singular line. We wonder: Did Laita manipulate the urutu into the shape of a heart, or did the viper become that on its own? How can an albino black pastel royal python, which reaches three to five feet in length, so delicately wrap its yellow and white body into a knot, appearing as if it has no head or tail?
That nature can create such fascinating beings is reason enough to celebrate their gorgeous glory.