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Frank Serafini: Artistry dancing across the light

Shea Stanfield~ 7/31/2014

PHOENIX – The great painter, writer, scientist, and inventor, Leonardo da Vinci penned in his journal, “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing…knowing is not enough.”

Five hundred years later, local nature photographer, educator, illustrator, and author of nonfiction nature books for children writes, “My academic background allows me to investigate the theories and research that support the analysis and critique of the picture book, while my photographic background allows me to appreciate the construction of picture books from an “insider’s” perspective.” 

Meet Dr. Frank Serafini, associate professor of Literacy Education and Children’s Literature at Arizona State University, who is living “the urgency of doing…knowing is not enough.”  Both men, centuries apart have focused their life work to unify the nature of the written text, and visual images to allow viewers to generate meaning to the viewer.  It’s about making sense of the visual cues in our environment and their art.

Frank’s talent lies in his ability to capture breathtaking images that invite the viewer in for closer examination. Often that would be enough for an accomplished nature photographer, but Frank partners his images with written language. As he would describe it, “modes of written language and visual images are governed by distinct logics.”

In other words, written text is organized by the logic of time, structured into a temporal sequence that slowly unfolds. However, visual image is governed by the logic of spatiality; it is organized to be viewed as a whole. Frank goes on to express that he can do different things with the photographic image vs. the written text and vice versa.  Each form has its own; for example, when he wants to show someone what an object or subject in nature looks like, he would rely on the visual image.  Yet, when he wants to explain something about a subject that may not be visible, the story, if you will, he chooses to write text.

The process of creating picture books requires adopting one of three stances: writing text to go with images, creating images to go with text, or envisioning the two simultaneously.  Regardless of the process, the product will result in an educational challenging and visually stimulating experience for the child. 

Yet the end product does not emerge successfully without planning on Frank’s part: themes, shot lists, running through his highly organized stock collection, researching his subjects, planning travel, and often working with his editor and the photo editors at Kids Can Press, in Toronto.  He reflects during the process of collaboration at this level he has come to realize editors of children’s books often have very different visuals in mind compared to his nature photographer eye.  Often the project is not a wrap until the rest of the “village” weighs in, which means going to the nieces and nephews for that “kids” stamp of approval.  In contrast to a number of other artists and mediums, Frank’s art is not a solitary journey.

To date, Dr. Frank Serafini has been awarded the Arbuthnot Award from the International Reading Association for 2014 Distinguished Professor of Children’s Literature.  He was an elementary school teacher and literacy specialist for twelve years in Phoenix, Ariz. 

Frank received his Master’s Degree in Elementary Education and his Ph.D in Reading Education at Arizona State University. In 2009, Frank received a Foundation Award at ASU for his Excellence in Teaching.  He is also a member of the Sonoran Arts League and has participated in the Hidden in the Hills
Studio Tour held the last two weekends in November. 

For more information on Dr. Frank Serafini’s publications and children’s books, visit his Web site at www.frankserafini.com.  To view a larger selection of his nature photography and inquire about images, see www.backcountryimages.com.  

Contact arts columnist Shea Stanfield at flowingquill@yahoo.com.