Sigma’s Jack Howard talked recently with Sigma Pro David Fitzsimmons about his new book project, Curious Critters, which is now available through all the major online and brick and mortar booksellers.
Jack Howard: David, first off, congratulations on the launch of your first photo book for children, Curious Critters!
David Fitzsimmons: Thank you very much!
JH: David, can you tell us about your vision behind this project in terms of the style and feel of the imagery, and what Sigma gear helped you achieve and realize this?
DF: My vision was to bring a unique perspective to many of the animals we see every day–including very common animals–but give a viewers a brand-new look at them. I photographed blue jays, box turtles, salamanders, and all kinds of insects: beetles and flies, among many others. But what I really wanted to do, instead of being above these animals and looking down at them, I really wanted to capture them at eye level, and I needed to find a way to get really close to the animal on their own level. A variety of Sigma’s macro lenses helped me get close, and my second main piece of gear is a table-top light tent–the Lastolite Cube Light– to be right at eye level.
In getting in close to these animals, some as small as a fingernail, I primarily used Sigma’s dedicated macros, the 50mm, the 70mm, the 105mm, the 150mm and the classic Sigma 180mm macro, sometimes along with extension tubes, too.
I used a variety of cameras including my Sigma SD14 SLR, my Sigma DP2, and I am currently shooting my Curious Critter series with the new Sigma SD1.
JH: That’s a nice selection of Sigma gear there! Can you tell me what do you think of the SD1 for your animal portraiture work?
DF: The details are incredible. I was photographing a small tropical fish and it’s a very colorful little fish, I was amazed when I processed the picture and looked at in full resolution. The color, the details were amazing. The eyes, the lips of this fish–literally, in some parts of the fish you can actually see straight through the body! It’s an amazing way to capture portraits of animals.
One of my goals with Curious Critters is to allow the viewer to see the images in full detail, and that means, in the case of the traveling gallery show (24 24x 36” prints), for viewers to see these animals in full detail, and that means to be able to stand six inches away and marvel in the amazing details of a beetle, a salamander, or a bird that they’ve never seen before-hidden patterns in the feathers, for example. In fact, there’s a photograph of a red flat bark beetle in the book, and there are mites, a half dozen or so tiny mites crawling on its back, and you can see the mites–and the legs on the mites–and it is just incredible!
I believe when you get in close to these animals–to these micro-worlds–all kinds of amazing things appear. It’s very exciting to look very closely at these tiny worlds!
JH: In removing these animals from their native environment–standing on their own in these pure white scenes–presents these animals in a very different way than many of the wild creature images we have seen before. There is a simplicity to the seamless white stage on which these creatures pose for their portraiture. Removing the wild context and really concentrating on the animal itself elevates the connection with the viewer. It is a simple stage, but in no way are these photographs drawn down for a younger audience. In fact, I think this is a fantastic use of sophisticated photography in a children’s book, and the photography in this book will appeal to many adults as well.
DF: The series made its debut at the Telluride Festival in 2010. It was fascinating to see the reactions and responses of the viewers–of all ages–the children who walked in were amazed and giggling and laughing. At the same time, the adults were just as giddy and wanted to tell me which was their favorite and tell me if the bat or the spider scared them. I quickly saw that this idea appealed to a wide range of ages.
On the flight home, I pondered the advice to turn the series into a children’s book. I approached Sigma Corporation of America, and they’ve been very supportive of this project.
The marketing experts tell you that you must have a target age group for the book, so while it says ages 4-8, the truth is, we think it appeals to a much wider age range. And when it comes to children’s books, when the book is appealing to both children, and their parents, not only will the children pick it up to read again and again, so will the parents. Adults will notice some literacy references, and there’s some more sophisticated information at the end of the book for parents and older readers to learn a bit more.
Before I wrote Curious Critters, I researched the National Science Education Standards, so I wrote with that in mind and Curious Critters meets all the K-4 Life Science Education Standards, so this makes it very useful for librarians, teachers, and home schoolers.
I think I’ve introduced a new kind of book to children. I wanted something that really highlighted each single animal on a page. I think it’s a new approach to children’s books, and it is exciting to hear the response from readers and viewers!
JH: The concept of a book is evolving. A”book” now can be a group of related iterations on a theme: the actual hard-bound book itself, an interactive website or eBook with multimedia-specific features, a gallery show and more. Can you tell us about the different engagement and interaction points for Curious Critters?
DF: Readers can visit the book’s dedicated website: Curious-critters.com. There is info for parents, teachers, librarians, media, and, of course, children. For the children we’ve got coloring book pages, additional photographs, word searches. There’s all kinds of fun and educational activities and downloadable content, and I add new photographs to the series, too. There’s information about the production of the book, and under the “About” tab, there is a page showing the camera gear and Sigma lenses and photo techniques used to create each photograph. All of the images in the Curious Critters series are shot with Sigma lenses.
There’s information about media coverage, awards and upcoming promotional events.
In terms of other products, we’re working on electronic versions of the book, an audio version, and there are postcards and stickers available, too. And more Curious Critters products are on the way as well. So besides the book and the traveling exhibition, there are more things in the pipeline.
And of course, as the introduction indicates, this is book one in the series. There will be more books in this series coming out in the future.
JH: David, you are the father of two young children. Can you tell me how this influences your work on this series?
DF: The goal of the project is to introduce children to nature at a young age. So one of the major goals of this project is to introduce these animals to children–including children who may not have seen these critters before–or at least never seen them up close. And my hope is that if children learn to appreciate nature, I hope they will help to conserve it.
One of large goals as a photographer over the years has been to help people understand and appreciate nature and the creatures that live in these environments. And hopefully then we can all work together to protect nature.
Watch David talk about the Curious Critters Project!
Curious Critters, David’s new children’s picture book, is now available. Click here to see sample pages or to purchase from Wild Iris Publishing All images in Curious Critters were all produced with Sigma lenses. Curious Critters will be available through bookstores and online in November. To see more of David’s hallmark white-background animal portraits, visit curious-critters.com.