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  • Writer's pictureRuta Saksens Kalmane


Updated: Feb 28, 2023

Once upon a time John Updike made a claim that is still valid today: “Photography, for all its contemporary abundance, still plays a minor part in the vast world of children’s illustrated literature” (in Steichen Calderone et al. 1991: 66). Thus, providing a lot of space for new creative and theoretical work. Having recently become a parent to a little baby boy who is half Latvian, half Dutch and is raised in multiple languages has made me wonder how I could let him know that being different than other children around him is nothing to be ashamed of and that being different than others should be proudly embraced. ‘The Bush Monster’ is planned to be a photographically illustrated rhyming story about how an odd pine tree escapes becoming a victim of a Bush Monster who hunts those who seem to be different than others (Fig.1), touching upon such key themes as identity, being different than the mainstream, vulnerability, resilience and social values. Although the work is going to be developed having one specific child in mind, any child who feels different and has feelings of not-belonging will be able to relate to the overall theme of the book, meanwhile any child can benefit from learning social values put forward in the story (such as tolerance), since “stories do not just develop children’s literacy; they convey values, beliefs, attitudes and social norms which, in turn, shape children’s perceptions of reality” (John Morgan 2016).

Fig. 1: Kalmane Saksens 2022. An odd pine tree [digital photographic images]


‘The Bush Monster’ is planned to be a conceptual continuation of the rhyming story ‘What happens to leaves when they fall off trees?’ (2022) that I developed earlier this year during the Informing Contexts module. I plan to continue with the idea of a story being told through nature photography and re-use one or more of the previously developed story characters, keeping the project aesthetics and production outcome as playful and interactive as the previously developed dummy book (Fig.2).

Fig.2: Kalmane Saksens 2022. Book pages in ‘What happens to leaves when they fall off trees?’

Similarly to the dummy book ‘What happens to leaves when they fall off trees?’ , also ‘The Bush Monster’ is primarily influenced by David Robinson’s work done for the children storybooks ‘The Mushroom Picker’ and ‘Penny Bun Helps Save the World’ (Fig. 3). Not in terms of the subject matter or even the used methodology, but in the concept of making a rhyming storybook in which photography goes hand in hand with the storyline, establishing a close relationship between image and text, but at the same time avoiding what Roland Barthes (1977: 25) calls a “parasitic message” being attached to images, ensuring that the decoding of the message doesn’t happen too fast.

Fig. 3: Robinson 2012. Luminogram in the book ‘The Mushroom Picker’

Secondary influences come from works developed by such photographers as Traci Griffin (Fig.4) and April Pulley Sayre (Fig.5).

Fig. 4: Griffin 2013. Mirrored tree giving the impression of lung bronchi [pair of digital photographic images]

Fig. 5: Pulley Sayre 2016. Pages in ‘Best in Snow’

Furthermore, children photobook categories (objects, situations and stories) set forward by David Campany (2008) help to place the work within a theoretical framework, and the theory on making connections suggested by Dorte Nielsen and Sarah Thurber (2016) feeds the creative development side of the project, following the idea that “making connections helps you see new options, create unusual solutions, and make the far-fetched combinations that lead to original ideas” (2016: 18), resulting in images that go beyond their literal meaning (Fig. 6), allowing the viewer to take in the signs and decipher messages based on the background knowledge, assuming that “we do not actually ‘see’ with our eyes but with our brains” (Mirzoeff 2015: 73). The pre-assumption that the viewer will have a certain background knowledge and ability to estimate how a viewer might decipher the iconic signs is an important part of the work.

Fig. 6: Kalmane Saksens 2022. A deer hiding in bushes [pair of digital photographic images]

At present moment the outcome of the project is planned to be a hand-made book that will be shared with public and used as a proposal to environmentally-friendly book publishers. For book presentation purposes I plan to organize an outdoor workshop for children which will be documented.


BARTHES, Roland. 1977. Image – Music – Text. London: Fontana.

CAMPANY, David. 2008. Strangely Simple or Simply Strange: Photobooks for Children. From David Company [online]. Available at: [accessed October 6, 2022].

MIRZOEFF, Nicholas. 2015. How to See the World. UK: Penguin Random House.

MORGAN, John. 2016. Why stories matter for children’s learning. From The Conversation [online]. Available at: [accessed October 6, 2022].

NIELSEN, Dorte and THURBER, Sarah. 2016. The secret of the highly creative thinker. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers.

UPDIKE, John. 1991. In Mary Steichen Calderone, Edward Steichen and John Updike. 1991. The First Picture Book: Everyday Things for Babies. UK: Meridian Printing.


Figure 1: KALMANE SAKSENS, Ruta. 2022. An odd pine tree [digital photographic image].

Figure 2: KALMANE SAKSENS, Ruta. 2022. Book pages in ‘What happens to leaves when they fall off trees?’.

Figure 3: ROBINSON, David. 2012. Luminogram in the book ‘The Mushroom Picker’. From David Robinson. 2012. ‘The Mushroom Picker’ (p.17-18). London: Violette Editions.

Figure 4: GRIFFIN, Traci. 2013. Mirrored tree giving the impression of lung bronchi [pair of digital photographic images]. From MCPActions [online]. Available at [accessed September 22, 2022].

Figure 5: PULLEY SAYRE, April. 2016. Pages in ‘Best in Snow’ [photographic images]. In April Pulley Sayre. 2016. ‘Best In Snow’. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Figure 6: KALMANE SAKSENS, Ruta. 2022. A deer hiding in bushes [pair of digital photographic images].

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