November 2009

Behind the lens

By Rebecca Bond
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Did you ever wonder how photographers get those fabulous pictures of birds? If you have ever tried to take a picture of any moving thing in nature, you’ve probably been perplexed by the work of the pros. I have trouble getting a good photo of a hanging leaf and can’t imagine how anyone could record photos like the ones by talented artists in magazines. Turns out, modern nature photographers have a thing or two to learn from Richard and Cherry Kearton, who invented the concept of bird photography.

Biographies for young children tend to be of familiar folks. But, like the Kearton brothers themselves, Rebecca Bond has taken a risk by writing a picture book biography about obscure brothers with a dream. Bond did her research and has created In the Belly of an Ox: The Unexpected Photographic Adventures of Richard and Cherry Kearton, a lovely, compelling story with wide appeal. The cover shows younger brother Cherry carrying a full size bull on his head! Any typically curious child will want to know what in the world is going on.

Richard and Cherry grew up in a large family in Yorkshire and loved their sheep, the hills and all things rural. Bond’s poetic prose about these young nature lovers draws the reader in: “They especially marveled at the architecture of living things: The structure of nests. The lattice of webs. The shapes of prints. The patterns of play. The camouflage of nature. The designs of flight.” Watercolor richly captures the tone and beauty of the outdoor life the brothers loved. One can imagine Bond, camped out like plein-air artists of the mid-1800s, capturing the green and blue tones of the Yorkshire countryside.

Even though the brothers moved to London as adults, they were drawn back to the moors they loved as boys. And it is here that the story becomes really amazing. The boys, inspired by Cherry’s new camera, decide to photograph a thrush’s nest. They have to be sneaky and clever to capture a good shot of the bird, so they design “hides,” contraptions for camouflage. First, they sew blankets together. Then, they hide in moving bales of hay, inside a hollow tree trunk covered with leaves and even inside a taxidermied ox! Imagine the laughter when young readers see the picture of Cherry, upside down in the ox, when a strong wind blows him over! Such ingenuity and dedication lead the brothers to become famous naturalists and writers, and to lead the lives they loved.

A full spread of period photographs and fascinating author notes rounds out this marvel of a story. Modern photographers with their teeny digital cameras will be inspired to follow the Keartons’ lead and find new ways to capture nature in photography

Robin Smith occasionally catches a slow spider in her camera’s lens, but never a bird.

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