Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kyle's sections of the essay, part 3 (with part 4 next week)

post #63
      Before I return to my essay about the work on Counting on the Woods, I want to acknowledge this four day weekend in Thanksgiving territory by hoping everyone here has been having some thankful times.  (I'd think some of my readers in other parts of the world may have a hard time understanding what this American holiday is really all about!)  In any case, the date does give me a good excuse to express my appreciation for those of you who have believed in me, encouraged my art, enjoyed my images -- and helped me get better at what I do.  Your support continues to mean a whole lot.

      Now, back to the essay, Snapshots of the work on Counting on the Woods.  The intro and part 1 are in post #60, part 2 is in post #61, and the words to the poem/book are in post #62 (last week.)  The essay was completed in 1999.


      How many kids should appear in a counting book?  This deceptively simple question would not be resolved until three days before deadline, but for the duration I had a wonderful excuse to spend time with Kyle.
      Kyle had always been my neighbor, but I really didn't meet him until I did a presentation at his school the previous fall.  I was showing slides I had taken in our shared eastern Kentucky county.  I didn't expect that there'd be any particular connections until a quiet spoken boy shyly said that the man in one of the pictures was his grandfather.  I took an immediate liking to this red-haired ten year old, and, after the class, I persisted until I found out who he was. Kyle McDaniel.
      Kyle's extended family members surround the land were we live.  His eldest brother and family live on the edge of our farm, in the house where Kyle was born.  The cemetery there holds two of his four brothers; both died as babies.  His first cousin once removed, Larry, lives across the road from us, where I lived when I came to Kentucky 31 years ago.  And his grandparents own the adjoining farm.  Kyle actually lived then about a mile away, on a road often mistaken for our driveway.
      I thought of Kyle right away that spring [1997] when I began imagining including a child in the the photos for the book.  It turned out working with Kyle was an even better idea than I had anticipated, besides the fact he was small for his age.  He was able to understand the project and actually looked forward to the few times we went out in the woods together.  Each of the three or four times we were together I made at least one good photo.
      This was fortunate because getting Kyle, his schedule, the weather and my schedule to mesh was a major accomplishment.  Not only was he very independent for his age, but he could be helping in the family tobacco growing operation, when sometimes they all worked outside until dark, too late for photos.  Then one weekend in June he drove to Michigan with his aunt for a cousin's high school graduation.  Another time he traveled to West Virginia.  I worried he'd stay gone for weeks, and I had a late July deadline!  Also, I finally figured out he could easily be home alone or out somewhere on his four-wheeler, the reason he wasn't available during several marvelously lit spring evenings.
      Kyle ended up being the only child shown in the book.  I can't imagine it being any one else.  I can't imagine it any other way.  In fact, the last photo I took of him deserves its own story.  [See part 4 ... next week.]

one path, a stick for a staff

Kyle watching our hummingbirds, photo used on the book's dust jacket

NOTE: For those of you in northeastern Kentucky, here is a reminder that I will be at Morehead State University's Arts and Crafts Fair, 9 - 4, Saturday, December 3, sharing a booth with my friend, artist Jennifer Reis.   Mention this blog, and I'll give you a 10% discount -- with appreciation for your alertness!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Counting on the Woods: the words

post #62
      This week it occurred to me, finally, that the remaining sections of the essay will make a lot more sense if I share the words George Ella Lyon wrote for the book.  So today's post will lay out her 76 words, which includes the title, Counting on the Woods.  After getting the go-ahead to be the photo-illustrator (with a contract and an advance,) those words were what I was given, to do with what I thought I could.  Figuring that all out and actually doing it is what I write about in the essay.

       So, here's some perfect imagination time, folks.  What do you see in your mind's eye when you read the words?   What would you ponder were you handed this poem, spread over two typed pages?  What would you try to look for?  As for me, I was thinking "It's already the end of March", and "I have never done this before" and "Thank goodness I live where I do [in eastern Kentucky.]"  Just know that I was grateful the words were each one wonderful and that our editor, Dick Jackson, is skilled at expecting one's best work.  His instinct is to envision the possible.  

Counting on the Woods
                                                                               to the waterfall
                                                                          given for all
One path, 
     a stick for a staff.

Two birds, 
     daybreak's words.

Three bugs 
     in the moss rug.

Four worms, 

     how the earth turns.

Five nests

     where new ones rest.

Six tracks.

      Who's coming back?

Seven stones, 

     the little creek's home.

Eight flowers 

     fed on dirt and showers.

Nine vines,

     earth to sky they climb.

Ten trees

     whose innumerable leaves

    clean the air for everything that breathes.

     That's it.  Totally.  1997 did happen to have a cool, wet spring, which meant a longer awakening season than most other years, and I did decide to show a child in a few of the photos, though you may have noticed there is no mention of one.   Other such helpful things evolved as well.  But a lot of that is in the essay, which I will continue sharing next week.  All in all, an unusual way to become a photographer, but, hey, if it works, go for it!

to the waterfall given for all

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Snapshots essay, part 2 (of 6)

post #61
     Before I start in on section two of my essay Snapshots of the work on Counting on the Woods, I'd like to confess that just yesterday my daughter showed me that nowadays we blog viewers can click on any photo in a post -- and, presto, all the photos in that post show up in a row along the bottom of the screen AND can be seen in a large size after being clicked.  Probably every one of you reading this already knew about this added blogspot innovation, but I did not.  Last week I did increase the spread size on the page, but if this causes problems for anyone, please let me know!  I will even give you my email address for the first time should you need to contact me:

OK, here is the essay's section 2,  BOX SCORES

      One question I have never fully resolved is whether it counts as work to sit outside--in a box--for an hour or two, near a bird place.
      The cubicles of the modern corporation would seem spacious in comparison to the box I ended up in, but at least they are clearly a place where people go to get paid to work.  Why else would they be tolerated?  The same clarity doesn't apply to a cardboard box.
      And what does the bluebird I'm taken by know of business plans and bottom lines?  I am not even certain what it is I expect of him, except that I have tried photographs of this bird, this post, this nest before.  I was always too far away.  Not connected enough.  
     So my only plan now is simply to get closer.  I suspect universal truth, but what I think about is cost efficiency.  Would this box effort mean I am doing more work, less work or none at all?
     I could figure out that setting up the box is definitely work, especially when its size most closely resembles the desk chair that it once held.  Getting tripod, camera, stool and body to fit inside is be a proper chore, but does the same hold true for just sitting there?  I was shooting at that time with very slow film, Velvia (ISO 50), and I was inside the box for a dawn-breaking hour and a half.  I needed to remain alert, of course, and move my right hand every so often to click the remote control, but otherwise just sit, stay calm, and sit some more.  
      The end result has made me willing to risk not "working" ever again.  One of my favorite photographs for the book.  I hope the happy coming together I experienced was the same somehow for my bluebird.  It seems he knew his part all along, and I learned mine.  Now, if only the questions I always ask about life could achieve equal clarity and sharpness where I to pay similar attention to situation and focus.

eastern bluebird at his nest, from Counting on the Woods

eastern bluebird, on the post containing the nest, but "always too far away!"  It was more like a test shot than a photo I would use for a note card or in the book, but it's still important, which is why I show it here today.

I call this more recent bluebird photo "No, YOU bathe first."
Note:  In my writers group, where I received valuable feedback to early drafts of this essay, we still call that important work we all must do of getting truly connected to our work getting closer to your bluebird.  Good luck to everyone doing just that!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Writing about making photos

Post #60
      For the first year of this weekly blog I have consciously chosen to focus on the place where I live -- northeastern Kentucky, in Appalachia -- and on what I learn from making photos here (and sometimes here and there.)  I haven't really given out my full name -- though it is not a secret -- or solicited fame and fortune.  
     However, now I want to share the essay I once wrote about making the photo illustrations for the book I mentioned in my last post, Counting on the Woods, a poem by George Ella Lyon.  This book was published in 1998 by DK, Ink, and our editor was the remarkable and risk-taking Richard Jackson.  I mention the risk part, because, back then, I was not a professional photographer.  I became one because of the learning I did while working those three months in 1997, which I write about in the essay.
     OK, so my name is Ann W. Olson, my web page is (which is in revision at the moment), and I do sell photos, photo note cards, and hardback copies of the book, which is currently out of print.  I have 100 copies left, but the book is in many a library across the country, in several text books and a big reader (though in an altered format.  Don't get me started.)

     The essay has six sections.  In keeping with my general goal of having these posts be short, I am planning to take six weeks to get the whole piece shared.  Today is the intro and section one.

     Snapshots of the work on Counting on the Woods

     All spring in 1997 I learned to see by taking photographs for a counting book for children, written by George Ella Lyon.  I spent dawns and dusks outside, I used a tripod, I discovered I could understand  signals from creatures and plants in the woods.
      Ever since then I have been trying to figure out what happened.  Amazing to me is that through the struggle to learn about depth of field on my camera I increased my inner depth of field.
      By the end of those three months, I was finding pictures that could only be seen through the lens.  What's out there didn't change, but I found the world had more possibilities.  Eyes first, then lens in addition, trying to imagine which vantage would interest a child.  What would work for the book. New ways of seeing. 

1. Uses of a Tripod 

      I never owned a decent tripod until April, 1997, yet almost instantly I became a tripod convert.  It is a wonder tool, a full partner in the photo taking process.  My tripod makes me look good.
      Its intended use is to prevent camera shake when light is low.  However, a tripod is a handy aid in many other ways as well.  For example, it provides a sturdy place to hang the clothes one is shedding in the heat of the morning; tree branches would bend and break.  Also, it affords an illusion of protection against snakes and bears and becomes a one time only expense in one's personal fitness program.
      Furthermore, the multiple levers and handles keep engineering and conceptual skills sharpened.  The tri this and tri that system actually makes sense after awhile, and the reward for more trying is that the tripod becomes less trying.
      There is no better way to be steady enough to allow light to work its magic.  This anchor is now what I miss most when I am away from home and can't take it with me.

      ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

Notice my boot prints near the tripod -- as well as Canada geese prints.  (The camera is not my regular camera.)  Then there are those baggies on the tripod legs....

the cover of the book