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a farewell

Haunty_72dpi_2012_coverI have photographed many people over the years. Each person has his or her own interesting story. Sometimes there are people whose stories are particularly moving. Nancy Haunty is one of those people. In 2012 I was hired by the Swedish Hospital Foundation in Seattle to photograph Nancy for a special Foundation publication about women and cancer. It turns out that Nancy, who was in her early forties at the time, had dealt with several bouts of breast cancer after an initial diagnosis in 2002. She and her husband Jake came to the photo session at Discovery Park accompanied their two beloved bull dogs and by a large group of friends who loved and supported them.

Nancy was an inspiration to many as she battled years of metastatic breast cancer. Incredibly, she ran two half-marathons and climbed Mt. Adams with the support of Team Survivor Northwest. Sadly, Nancy died on May 13 at the age of 46. Though the encounter I had with her was brief, she is a person whose life was inspiring to me and to many who knew her. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with her.

Those ocoffee_yellow tablef you who watch my occasional Facebook posts know that I just got back from a month in Europe. First on the list was a 10-day stop in Paris, alone, to celebrate a milestone birthday. Pourquoi non?

I rented a lovely apartment around the corner from the Eiffel Tower with the idea of taking 10 days to see what I would discover about Paris and about myself. After that, my husband would join me for travel to Spain.

What do I love about Paris? The architecture, the grand boulevards, the balconies, the flower shops, the sidewalk cafes, the great museums, the soaring cathedrals the flea markets, the farmers markets. But what I love most is wandering, which I did every day.

The French have a name for such a person: flâneur. Which means one one who saunters around observing society. And though I did not exactly saunter (I am a fast walker), I enjoyed observing, stopping in shops, watching people, looking at art, making pictures. Everything. And I enjoyed pausing for a cup of coffee, which I rarely do in my Seattle life. It was a time to just BE.

I had such a wonderful time that I decided to try to bring a bit of the flâneur back with me. So the other day I took the bus to downtown Seattle where I walked around, went to galleries and shops, and strolled through the Pike Place Market with the eyes of a visitor.

I filled myself with art and beauty at the Rovzar Gallery, the Lisa Harris Gallery, and the wonderful Watson Kennedy store near the Inn at the Market. I even stopped in a café to enjoy a crème brulée. Later I joined my husband and friends for dinner on Capitol Hill.

Voila! I discovered that I do not actually not have to go to Paris to be in a Paris state of mind. For the price of a bus fare, I was there.


note: please check out my updated website.

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top: The Beast. bottom: the flames

top: The Beast. bottom: the flames

Last evening my husband and I joined a host of other people at the home of Kate Thompson and Mary Bruno for an incredible event about letting go. Kate has been lugging around a suitcase for three decades, a suitcase filled with her mother’s poems and prose and rejection slips, which she explains in her blog post.

Finally Kate decided that it was time to have a ceremony about letting go. It’s a question all of us who create stuff (art, sculpture, poems, songs) have to consider, eventually.

The very talented Kate created a large beast that looked somewhat like an alpaca (a beast of burden), feathered with triangles of cut up poems and stories from her mother’s suitcase. Everyone who came to the event was invited add their own symbolic burdens to the creature which was then hauled ceremoniously from the backyard down the the beach below.

Surrounded by friends, Kate lit a match. The Beast of Unburden went up in dramatic flames, ashes floating off into the clouds, to some creative afterlife, undoubtedly freeing up space for more creative works to come.


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so beautiful

Rosanne Olson.







Lately I have been reflecting on the incredible variety in who we are and how we present ourselves. If you know of someone (male, female, young, old) who has an inspiring story (including you, dear reader), please let me know!

Victoria is a young woman I know and adore. She is a lovely 24-year-old who exudes good cheer and that “I want what she’s having” quality. What makes her so? She is not our media’s norm for beauty. On any given day she might have pink hair. Or blond. She wears tight clothes with stockings that cultivate runs. But Victoria, through her being and connection to life, is beautiful.

Her approach to clothing is an example of what’s happening now in the world of women and fashion, especially for younger women. Getting beyond the stick-thin model as a paradigm of beauty, some women are throwing off baggy clothes to reveal their hearts and bodies. And while one may make the argument for aspiring to be svelte for reasons of health, the point is to celebrate what we have right now. And Victoria does that with panache.

When Victoria showed up at our annual holiday party, she wore a green velvet sleeveless dress, stockings with seams, incredible heels. Thank you, Victoria, for your inspiration!

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Galway Kinnell



In the department of inspiring people, I want to note that one of my favorite poets, Galway Kinnell, passed away at the age of 87. I met him at an art retreat at a place called Menucha, east of Portland, Ore., in 1979. He was 52 at the time and seemed to be vibrating with vitality and creative energy. He did a reading for us, a small group of artists and writers. It was a reading I will never forget at which he read: The Bear, a brilliant poem about life life, art and suffering. Another of his poems that is one of my all-time favorites is St. Francis and the Sow. I have read it many times at lectures for my book, This is Who I Am. I is a powerful statement about finding beauty in every living being.

St. Francis and the Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

From A New Selected Poems by Galway Kinnell, published by Houghton Mifflin; copyright © 2000 by Galway Kinnell


Seattle Center _OlsonSummer’s a sweet memory–one of the best ever in Seattle. Now the tomatoes are just about finished, the trees are ablaze in reds and yellows. The spiders are busy creating elaborate webs that somehow impossibly suspend across the sidewalk from our house, snagging the early morning walkers. One of my favorite photos from summer is that of the fountain at the Seattle summer, taken with my iPhone. Every time I look at it I feel that water and feel like a kid again!

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ABC_cover_smDo you ever wonder why you are drawn to certain images? It’s because every painting, photograph or movie uses light to tell a story. And some stories are more beautifully told than others. Is the light source hard or soft? Is the source positioned high or low? (Light positioned at a low level creates upward shadows that make for scary images.) How is color used?  Next time you look at a photograph or painting, try to figure out what it is that compels you to want to look at it again.

After teaching lighting to photographers for more than 20 years, I was asked to create a lighting book. ABCs of Beautiful Light (Amherst Media) is my first textbook. In it, I teach photographers and artists how to be “light detectives”.  For example, one can examine catch lights, which are highlights on shiny surfaces, such as eyes. They tell the story of what type of source was used (window, umbrella, soft box, for example). Another clue is where the shadows fall and how hard or soft-edged they are. I also talk about the art of using fill (a card to bounce light into the shadows) to subtly control the drama of the image.

My students tell me that they will never be the same after taking this lighting class. They become newly aware of light everywhere and how it can be used to tell a story or convey a feeling.

f you are interested (or have friend or family member who might be) I would love to provide an autographed copy of my book. Just email me directly at Rosanne@rosanneolson.com or send me a Facebook message. Or you can find the book on Amazon.

Are you interested in learning more about light? Let me know and I will keep you posted.

Yours in beauty,


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Patra 40

Patra_40_Inner Light_Olson Today I am am packing up this beautiful bowl, called Patra 40, to send off to a friend for a temporary visit. The bowl, one of a series of 108 bowls made by artist Lynda Lowe is part of her project called Patra Passage, based on the idea of the bowls that monks use for begging for food–and that whatever one receives is enough.

Patra 40, which was passed to me by my friend, artist Iskra Johnson, has held several positions in my life since I received her in February. For a while she sat in my dining room next to a Chinese Buddha. Every day the bowl seemed to fill with light, reminding me to pay attention, to center myself.

Then, in early May, I took Patra 40 on a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon (carefully packaged in bubble wrap and Tupperware). I photographed the bowl on a travertine waterfall on the clear blue Little Colorado. And then I hiked her to the top of Deer Creek canyon where I photographed her on shards of rocks, the same colors as the bowl–which seemed to imply that she belonged there. Another lesson–about being present wherever we are.

Having something so beautiful and fragile, something that reminds me to look inward and reflect, knowing I would have to give her up–has been an interesting experience. The temporary nature of our time together made it all the more precious. Like life.

And now, Patra 40 travels on to a friend in another state, before returning to Lynda in the fall.

I am grateful to Lynda Lowe for creating these amazing bowls and sharing them with many people. It is good to be reminded of the idea that what we receive every day is enough, now matter what it is.

spring begins

140409_Magnolia_2 There is something about spring that steeps my heart in optimism. Somehow, after a record-breaking month of rain, the sunshine seems so special, like the siting of a rare bird. I walked home from Green Lake this morning like a bride along a carpet of petals. Everything is in bloom in a wild chorus of color: magnolias, cherry trees, daffodils, tulips, camellias. As I stopped to photograph this magnolia blossom, spreading it’s petals open to the day,  I wondered how I could keep this spring perfume in my memory. The perfume of optimism.

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In association with Fotofest in Houston there was a city-wide exhibit of the work of 48 Arab artists. One of my favorite pieces was not actually a photograph but a sort of rough cartoon video. The artist, Sadik Alfraji, created this amazing piece, called The House That My Father Built. Part of it consisted of a tall black bent-over character with an eye that was observing everything. There is a coat hung on the wall (actually a real coat) and two photographs on the wall (actually two photographs). What takes place around these three stationary objects is a very moving story about life, death and everything in-between. The video was presented in a dark room with tall ceilings. Everyone who came to watch it was spellbound. I watched it three times and wept. I feel so lucky to have found it on Vimeo. Please take a look. Sit down and allow the imagery and music to work their magic. Just click on the picture.

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