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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.

fotofest 2014

fotofest awaits I just returned from five intense days of fine art portfolio reviews in Houston at the bi-annual Fotofest. Fotofest is the world’s largest portfolio review which hosts approximately 45 reviewers and 130 artists per session (the five-day sessions run from March 15 to April 27). Photographers from around the world, me included, bring their work to be seen by gallerists, museum directors, collectors, art directors, etc. also from around the world. Every day we would meet one-on-one with the reviewers at linen-draped tables in the Doubletree ballroom. Everyone had opinions. Some reviewers loved the work (of any given photographer), some didn’t love it as much. I overheard one photographer in the elevator say that one reviewer praised his work and the next one said he should throw it in the trash. (Well–that’s not a very helpful review but most were more circumspect.)

For me, this was a very helpful event. I brought my newest work, the Rapture series. I got numerous positive responses, some great feedback. I met some people whose work I loved and I hope I will see them again. Among them, Toni Greaves of Portland who has a book about clositered nuns coming out soon (Chronicle Books). And Tara Bogart whose photos of the backs of women’s hairdos, set in classic ovals, is very compelling.

Houston is an incredible city for the arts. And especially for photography. For this event there was a special photographic exhibit of the work of 48 Arab photographers. I could go on and on but, for now, you get the idea. It was amazing.

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Recently a friend sent me this beautiful poem called One Heart by Li-Young Li. It sees like a perfect way to start a new year, or to start every day. I keep it taped to my computer screen.

One Heart

Look at the birds. Even flying

is born

out of nothing. The first sky

is inside you, open

at either end of the day.

The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening

one heart to every falling thing.

–Li-Young Li

I just returned from a two-week vacation with my husband, Ted McMahon, to celebrate our 25th anniversary. We sailed the Mediterranean from Barcelona to Venice on a Prairie Home Companion cruise with Garrison Keillor. Lots of music, good food and many sights to behold.

I got a chance to sit down and read a book (Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, which I highly recommend). But more than anything, I got a chance to take stock of my life, asking (as I have many times): am I doing what I want/should be doing with my life? Am I spending enough time with friends and family? Am I savoring day-to-day life?

The answer didn’t (and shouldn’t) come as an automatic “yes”. It is a real question that welcomes thought and I think (hope) we all ask ourselves this question now and then.

I am grateful to have a profession in photography and teaching that has given me a lot of happiness over a thirty-year career. Sometimes it is more demanding than I would wish. But I can’t imagine NOT doing what I do.

On my trip, I resolved to tweak things a bit. Try to spend more time with friends. Try for more art time. Find some time to read and play music. But overall, I love my life and am blessed by what it gives me in return.

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