Slowing Down & Looking Closely

“Let’s all slow down,” I said as I introduced one of my favorite picture books  in a recent presentation to a group of librarians and teachers.  I always seem to have a weakness for picture books that focus on little things.  Simplicity.  Patience.  Observation.

I suppose I wish my life were simpler and that I were more patient and observant.

I was reminded of how much I value slowness and observation as I listened to a recent episode of Pratfalls of Parenting in which visual artist Karen Kasel spoke of the role that slowing down played in her life and art–having kids forced her to slow down.  Now that her kids are school-aged, she wants to share the idea of slowing down and looking closely with them.  How do you convince a kid that slowness and patience are worth it when you have to compete with tech and all the other distractions we have?

I don’t know.  But I know that I would start with a few good picture books.

how-to ifyouwanttosee LittleBird

  • How To by Julie Morstad is one of my favorite picture books of the year for its look at the everyday beauty that we often overlook.
  • If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano is another good one for reorienting your perspective to the small joys.
  • Little Bird by Germano Zullo reminds us to cherish small things.

And for you?  Once you’ve let the picture books settle a bit, stop by the Hidden in Plain View exhibit–currently at the Minneapolis Central Library through October 26th–for several perspectives on everyday beauty from local photographers.  The exhibit is quiet and thoughtful.  The photographs contain people and places we’ve probably seen-but-not-seen a million times.  Here is your chance to stop, to remind yourself that there is much to see if we take the time to look.


Books, art, music.  These are my touchstones.  When I need to reorient my perspective to my values, I turn to these things.  How do you recharge?  What reminds you to live your values?

Capturing Your Soul

In the year 1900, photographer Edward Curtis traveled from his home in Seattle to Montana to witness a Native American Sun Dance, which he and other members of the expedition believed would be the last event of its kind, ever.  Anne Makepeace writes about the effect this had on the man in her book Edward Curtis: Coming to Light:

“If some Indians believed that the camera could capture one’s soul, at this Sun Dance in 1900 it was Curtis’s soul that was captured.  This vision of a passing world would change Curtis’s life, uproot him from his home, and send him on an Odyssean journey that would consume him for the next 30 years.”

I personally did not know the name Edward Curtis until quite recently when a colleague talked about a recently published biography of him, but some of his photographs were familiar to me.  His haunting photographs of Native Americans around the country in the early twentieth century have become iconic.  You can see many of them on display at the Minneapolis Central Branch of the Hennepin County Library from now through January 6th in an exhibit called “Beauty, Heart and Spirit: The Sacred Legacy® of Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian.”  Photographers take note of the November 15th event at which master printers discuss Curtis’s ahead-of-his-time printing techniques.

I have yet to see the exhibit myself, but I’ve been reading about Curtis’s life:

Books about Edward Curtis


This photo of Chief Joseph (shown here from the children’s biography Shadow Catcher: The Life and Work of Edward Curtis) was the one that clicked with me:


Chief Joseph


While his work was not without controversy, it remains a significant legacy.  I know I can’t read about the dedication and empathy that Curtis put into this project without thinking about what might capture my soul in such a way.  

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Celebrating womanhood, whatever that means

Can you tell when you look at a photograph whether it was taken by a man or a woman?  What does it mean to be a woman?  Is it emotional, personal, political, sexual?  Are women mothers?  Are we caregivers?  Damsels?  Is that how we see ourselves or our peers?

In the Woman as Photographer: Documenting Life as a Woman exhibit at the MPLS Photo Center, I saw mothers, lovers, sisters.  There were women who had survived much who stared into the camera with smiles or what felt to me like determined eyes.  The photos spanned continents, but I found myself focusing on the women whose stories I knew or had read about.  The shot of a powerful looking African-American woman in front of an inner-city Chicago house.  The photograph’s title said “principal.”  I’ve read this story in articles and books.  My heart ached for the painfully thin woman who sat on a thick cookbook.  I have read so many stories of body image and eating disorders.  I read teen novels, for crying out loud.  So many teen novels are about girls growing into themselves, about exploring their boundaries, about creating space for themselves and their insecurities.  I thought about these stories as I walked slowly through the gallery.

Many of these photographs were painful to see. Many were full of love. Others were thoughtful.  To be honest, I am most struck by the diversity of the lives depicted in the photos.   I am continually struck by the diversity of the women I have known or have read about.  We are vast, and we are worth exploring.  (I feel like I might have written about this before, but about books.)

The exhibit is open daily from noon to six until April 17th at the MPLS Photo Center.  I highly recommend it.

Read more about the exhibit: