Let’s Talk SHOP: Helen Frost and Rick Lieder

Abby Leon, Paradigm Gallery Director

Hardcover, $17.99

Helen Frost lives in Fort Wayne and Rick Lieder lives in Michigan—fortunately, the flora and fauna in their two backyards are similar enough that when they decide to create a children’s book together they can begin by observing the life around them, sharing their observations. Helen’s medium is poetry; Rick’s is photography. Wait—and See is their sixth collaboration. Their newest picture book evokes a welcome message for all ages to slow down and be present with nature, inspiring you to do so in your very own backyard! Read on to learn more about this critically acclaimed duo and the enchanting process behind their work.

Poet Helen Frost. Photo Credit Tim Anderson.

“I was born in South Dakota and moved to Massachusetts when I was eleven. Fort Wayne is halfway between these two childhood homes, and the creatures in my backyard have become old friends after lifelong interest and observation. I approach my writing the same way I encourage children to approach nature: by being still, quiet, and open to what arrives, whether it is a tiny praying mantis on a blackberry bush or a poem singing itself into being.”

Artist Rick Lieder. Photo credit Rick Lieder.

“The images in our books started as a challenge to myself – the idea of photographing insects in my backyard with no equipment other than my camera: no flash or manipulation of the bugs themselves. I mostly wait and follow them, trying to capture their behavior and their beauty.

I hope to give my work a unique, painterly look, partly due to the shallow depth-of-field, but also because of my lighting choices and composition. 

When people hear “wildlife photography”, they often think of large, charismatic mammals.  But photographing creatures the size of an eyelash has a whole different set of rules (number one, do not crush your subject). And it can be hazardous in its own way: I’ve had some pretty spectacular bites and stings in some very uncomfortable places.”

Rick and Helen met about 15 years ago, through Rick’s wife, Kathe Koja, who saw potential for their collaboration. Helen found that Rick’s photographs express the same attention to the infinitely interesting natural world that she enjoys exploring in her poetry. It took more than five years for their first book, Step Gently Out, to find a home at Candlewick Press with editor Sarah Ketchersid. The three of them have since worked together, along with Candlewick’s artistic directors, to create six more books. Wait—and See is the most recent, published this year, with a seventh due out in 2024.

As Helen describes the process, “Each book entails many conversations as we zero in on a topic of interest to both of us, then share drafts and images, first with each other, then with the editor and art director at Candlewick. We begin with a fairly specific idea, knowing that it will change as we go back and forth, sharing different versions of both text and images. People often ask which comes first, the photographs or the poem, and the answer is ‘neither.’ The poem is not a caption for the photographs, and the photos are not illustrations of the poem. It is a true collaboration throughout the process.”

Here is an example of notes from a phone conversation, as we made decisions about which images might accompany each line of the poem:

The process of creating Wait—and See was somewhat different from earlier books. Rick is a painter as well as a photographer, and an early version of the book told a story, in prose and paintings, about a particular child who discovers a praying mantis ootheca (egg case), and then observes it to see what will happen. Here is one of the images Rick painted:

As the book progressed, the praying mantis became the main character, with the young reader as the child who goes out into the world to “wait and see” what will happen after the ootheca is formed and the mantis nymphs emerge.

The book has received great reviews, from readers of all ages. Here is one young reader admiring an ootheca as he compares it to an image in Wait—and See (left).

Come visit us in the Paradigm Gallery to pick up a signed copy of Wait—and See and other nature books by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder!

The Paradigm Gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm; Thursday 10am-8pm; Sunday 12pm-5pm.

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