Whenever I show TreeSpirit photographs to a group, I know I’ll get The Question: “Why are all the people naked?”
But with this enthusiastic group in San Francisco last week (March 2015), I got a very different first question (I’m paraphrasing): “Why are most of your photos black-and-white, but one was in color?”
Way cool. And unexpected. Especially because the person asking was about 10 years old! I was at Brightworks School in San Francisco, an alternative, project-based (vs. textbook-based) school with only about 50 students. It’s also mixed-grade/age, for grades K-through-12.
This curious questioner, it turned out, had recently studied photography in her group, and so keenly observed the color vs. black-and-white TreeSpirit mix, and wanted my explanation.
Only later did I get The Question. And as this audience was so much fun to interact with, I asked THEM to try to answer it before I did: “Why do YOU think all the people are naked?,” I asked the group.
A 12-year-old girl guessed: “So they blend in more with nature?” I quickly realized these young people were as discerning as any group of any age, and probably even more curious. If you work with kids, or have kids (I don’t), this isn’t news.
Some friends were surprised to hear I was invited to show TreeSpirit artwork, with its nudity, to school kids. But my experience proved my hunch,: that we adults teach our kids how to react to most things, and especially things we have our own challenges, prejudices, and fears around. We teach our children to be ashamed or fearful, or curious and trusting. Or perhaps, more accurately, we condition them to NOT be curious or trusting because of our own fears projected onto them (which, I understand, come from our own painful experiences). It’s a big, hot topic.
I CAN tell you I’ve watched some people freak out at the thought of children being in innocent TreeSpirit photographs, like this “May Day, May Day!“ They rarely react to seeing the final TreeSpirit photographs with kids in them, but the idea apparently conjurs dark images, memories, or news stories. My point here is that none of this came up for these kids. They were fine with the nudity and more interested in other topics, like how rough bark is on skin.
After I reached my planned 45 minute length, the young audience was growing restless — as I am when cooped up indoors. (Let alone when I was in grade school, stuck behind a desk. At least these kids get to hang out on a cork floor.)
Of all the groups I show my work to, the Brightworks group knew the joys of not just TALKING ABOUT NATURE, or looking at pictures of nature, but of GETTING INTO NATURE & PLAYING. It’s one of TreeSpirit’s missions, after all, along with we humans protecting, preserving, and re-planting forests all over.
A few more cool things:
• You know how it’s easy (or feels safer) to hang out in the back of a room during a presentation? Lots of adults do this (including me), for all sorts of reasons, including making an early exit/escape, not wanting to get called on, worrying about the speaker seeing me bored, etc., etc. Well, these kids, by contrast, without prodding from their teachers, all hustled up front and huddled close to me, eager to see and hear some new guy’s (me) offering. I don’t have kids of my own, so I don’t know what goes in schools today, but this was great to see.
• I asked, “How many of you are familiar with the term, “treehugger?” Every single hand in the room went up. “How many like to climb trees?,” I asked next. Every single hand went up (including mine).