Getting The Bug For Nature Photography

The results of a nature art program for schoolkids will be on exhibit at the upcoming Garden Club flower show

Rasa Fournier
Friday - April 21, 2006
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Tevon Funasaki from Noelani is totally focused
Tevon Funasaki from Noelani is totally focused

Gregg Abe of Manoa School gets into his assignment
Gregg Abe of Manoa School gets into his

Beyla Araiza with her Georgia O’Keefe-style painting
Beyla Araiza with her Georgia O’Keefe-style

Miss Frizzell’s Magic Schoolbus, elementary students are being transported out of the classroom and into the nature wonderland of Lyon Arboretum for some exciting hands-on learning.

The children, armed with cameras, head into the gardens on a mission to hunt down the perfect shot that will translate classroom knowledge of art into photographic images of nature - images so fresh and vibrant they are being featured at an upcoming flower exhibit at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

For more than a decade the Lyon Arboretum has invited students to experience art and science in its lush outdoor setting. Jill Laughlin, Education Programs coordinator at the arboretum, credits the pioneer spirit of two second-grade teachers, Jan Nishiki of Noelani and Lori Chun of Manoa, for its thriving children’s program. For years the teachers have introduced their classes to the garden to study the shape, texture and size of leaves, or to write haiku at the water lily pond in the Children’s Garden. The budding poetic inspiration of second-grader Erin Tatsuno captures the moment at one such outing with this haiku: pink flowers on ground bees hovering all around very beautiful

PTA funds and public school grants allowed Nishiki and Chun to further enrich the children’s experience with cameras. The original plan was to have the children snap shots of flowers and foliage, and then use the pictures in the classroom as models for large Georgia O’Keefe style watercolors.

“They were learning colors, lines, balance - all of the elements and principles of art,” explains Laughlin. “But when we got the pictures back, were were like ‘Wow! These pictures are awesome.”

The pictures were so impressive that they started a tradition over the past six years of holding a small exhibit for the parents and grandparents.

Photo by Kiana Bruno
Photo by Kiana Bruno

This year the students had the good fortune of working with commercial photographer Bruce Behnke.

“It’s so refreshing working with the kids. They’re not afraid to get down on their stomachs or to climb up a tree, even hang upside down,” says Behnke, who after retiring as CEO of a local hospital dived into his passion for photographing nature. He professed enthusiastically that he learns at least as much from the children as they learn from him. Behnke’s hope is that the camera will ignite a lifelong spark in at least some of the children. “That would be the icing on the cake,” he adds.

One girl, Kiana Bruno from Noelani, enjoyed taking photos so much that her father bought her a camera. While some children were drawn to the golden bamboo stalks or the deep red cacao fruit, it was the flowers that caught Bruno’s eye.

“It’s a blue flower with little white spots,” says Bruno, describing her photo that will be on display at the Academy of Arts. “It’s on a vine. It’s a close up and it kind of looks like a bird.”

Photo by Tiare Fuchigami
Photo by Tiare Fuchigami

Bruno offers another creative description of a picture she took of a plant.

“There’s this pink fat stick and then there’s pink lines sticking out of it like a porcupine, and it has blue dots all over it,” describes Bruno, whose favorite activity is drawing and favorite school subject is math.

Gregg Abe, a participant from Manoa School, had few words regarding the pictures themselves, seeming more impressed with the experience of manipulating the camera. Where even digital cameras often leave adults befuddled, Abe was not fazed by the bulkier, more involving process of using an SLR model.

Another Tiare Fuchigami photo
Another Tiare Fuchigami photo

“I just look in it and focus and take the picture,” offers Abe, whose favorite activity is playing video games.

“The kids are taking better photography than most adults,” asserts Garden Club member KC Collins, a statement seconded by Behnke, who felt that the children, with their unique perspectives, easily rival the professionals.

Between Noelani and Manoa and the three SLR cameras at their disposal, more than 150 second-graders took about 700 pictures.

The Garden Club of Honolulu, which has taken ongoing interest in the keiki photographers, had the task of choosing 30 of the children’s photos to include in their impressive flower exhibit this weekend at the Academy of Arts.

The show is such an extravaganza that it is held only every two to three years. This year’s theme is “The Silk Road.” Fifty Garden Club of America judges will be on hand to examine the various categories: horticulture, flower arrangements, photography and jewelry.

The children’s photos are being displayed as a special educational exhibit.

“All they’ve seen is the 3-by-5 of their picture,” says Laughlin. “Now they’ll be able to see it blown up and mounted on the wall at the Academy of Arts. It’s pretty chicken skin.”

The exhibit will run April 28, 29 and 30. Admission is free. For information, call 532-8700.

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