When I was in third grade my teacher Mrs. Schulz asked me to stay after class one afternoon to tell me how much she liked some stories I had written about Charlie, my families’ golden retriever. I was thrilled that she pulled me aside to tell me this – mainly because she was my favorite teacher of my entire life up to that point, but even more so to hear that she happen to be giving a prize to the “best-golden-retriever-story-writer” that year and that that I had won! What were the chances?! Apparently math was not my subject.
This was rural southern Wisconsin and Mrs. Shultz lived on a farm two miles from our tiny grade school. I had a pretty good idea that the prize was going to be something alive, and furry. Imagine any child’s delight to be able to choose two baby bunnies from a hay filled box and take them home as their new pets.
The genuine love and responsibility that comes with raising animals, for children, has always been an instinctual “artist-subject” fit for me. Years ago I did a photo essay about local 4-H kids in the rural ranch areas of Central Oregon. I was invited to photograph in half-lit barns with a variety of pens occupied by rabbits, chickens, goats, pigs, and a steer or two. Kids who have animal kinds-of-chores to do after school and on weekends tend to be extremely cheerful, loving, patient, and extremely hardy. These seem like great traits for just about anyone, and lucky are those who get the chance to experience and exhibit them at an early age through caring for animals.
These days, if I’m on any photo shoot involving children I always ask, “Do you happen have any pets that are dying to be photographed?” If they do, the energy and joy that resonates in the resulting photographs never disappointments me, an art editor, nor a client. I always always know it’s going to be a great image. I know it in my ‘rural’ bones.
Thinking back, I cannot recall if I wrote any more stories about Charlie that third grade year or if my subject matter switched to stories of Ralf and George – two “prize” rabbits if there ever were any.