Beady eyes. Hairy legs. Fangs. To most people, these creepy crawlies are frightening. To Thomas Shahan, they’re beautiful.
Shahan is a macrophotographer from Tulsa who is shining the spotlight on jumping spiders and other insects that he fondly calls “Beautiful Beasts.”
“I like jumping spiders; they are cute and charismatic,” said Shahan. “It’s ingrained in us as primates to be startled by spiders, but if you can ‘unlearn’ that, you’ll find that spiders are very cool, diverse and colorful.”
After graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 2011, Shahan found himself wandering the fields behind the Sam Noble Museum, trying to snap photos of jumping spiders. He connected with Tom Luczycki, head of exhibits, and the idea for the Beautiful Beasts exhibit was born.
In 2012, Shahan and Luczycki came together and started selecting photos to use for an exhibition. Beautiful Beasts: The Unseen Life of Oklahoma Spiders and Insects, debuted in February 2013 in the museum’s second-floor Higginbotham gallery.
“Oklahoma is home to over 100 species of jumping spiders, and this exhibit is a good opportunity for people to learn more about them and about how cool they are,” said Shahan. “Many spiders have a bad reputation, but in reality, spiders are extremely beneficial due to the fact that they eat flies and insects that we don’t like, they’re not agricultural pests and they don’t become invasive.”
Shahan’s fantastical large-scale images have also been featured in publications such as Weekly Reader, National Geographic, Wired Magazine and Popular Photography. Several of his photographs were also used as a reference to create the museum’s giant inflatable spider that makes an appearance every Halloween.
Earlier this year, the museum brought the Beautiful Beasts exhibit back. It opened on Sept. 25, this time in the museum’s first-floor Brown gallery.
In his spare time, Shahan enjoys making YouTube videos about spiders, conducts international workshops with entomologists, creates spider illustrations and licenses his photos to other museums and textbooks. He has also returned to the Sam Noble Museum to teach macrophotography classes to families and adults.
“Ultimately, I’m a spider guy; I just want people to go out into their area and look for spiders,” said Shahan. “You don’t need to be afraid of them; 99% of them are harmless and they should not be on your radar for danger. I just want people to love spiders, because there is no reason to not love spiders.”
Beautiful Beasts: The Unseen Life of Oklahoma Spiders and Insects will be on display at the Sam Noble Museum through Jan. 30, 2022.