5 Questions: Rebecca Dudley

balloon_©_rebecca_dudley Balloon image: "From 'Hank Has a Dream'" | Photo credit: Rebecca Dudley, © Rebecca Dudley

Rebecca Dudley has published two children’s picture books: Hank Finds an Egg and Hank Has a Dream.  She grew up in Durham, New Hampshire, a woodsy place with hills and streams.  She makes everything that appears in her illustrations: the creatures, trees, ponds, and skies.  She has always liked to build things and take pictures.  In seventh grade she made an excellent model of the Parthenon out of file folders.  Everyone thought her parents made it, but she made it by herself on the dining room table while her parents were in the living room, reading.  Rebecca won a traveling fellowship a while ago and went to Japan for four months.  Sometimes people think her work was created in Japan, but it was all made in Evanston, Illinois where she has a small architectural practice.

You can check out more of her work at her website.

Sledding: “Hang on to Your Hat!” | Photo credit: Rebecca Dudley, © Rebecca Dudley

1. What’s been keeping you up at night?
The future of photography:

Technically I am a documentarian. Most of my published images meet National Geographic’s veracity standards*. But I worry that children will think my work isn’t real. I have had one kid ask which computer program I use to create Hank and his world, a fifth grader. That will probably happen more and I worry about my readers mistrusting what they see. My work isn’t “realistic”, it’s real. It takes up space in my house.

For now, most kids know the world I build is real. But I wonder if that will last, or if children will become wary of photography and quick to assume the images I make are digital tricks.

I calm myself down by thinking of drawings by artists who made marks on paper with their hands and simple tools. Robert Osborn, Ronald Searle, Saul Steinberg.

“From ‘Hank Has a Dream'” | Photo credit: Rebecca Dudley, © Rebecca Dudley

2. What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen or heard lately?
Matt Espy and Mac McNeily playing drums the same night. The two most musical drummers I have ever seen, live and on the same bill. I was on the verge of happy-tears the whole night. It was so good.

Two nights later I was at the 4th Presbyterian Church, to see musicians Joan Shelley and Andrew Bird. I was looking for the entrance to the left balcony. They undersell the balcony seats, even when it’s sold out, because there are a lot of obstructed views up there, behind the elaborate old light fixtures. The door to the balcony had a folding chair in front of it, so it looked…prohibited. And although the main floor was flooded with people it was quiet in the corridor up there. No signs, no ushers, nobody but me. And then a beautiful woman in a long dress with big flowers on it appeared and asked, “Um, can I help you?” I told her about the folding chair in front of the door, the lack of ‘left balcony’ signage, the absence of other audience members. She pointed to the door with the chair, “Oh, yes, that’s the door to the left balcony.”. She waited until I pushed the folding chair aside and peeked through the door to confirm, yes, it was the left balcony. I gave her a thumbs up. She smiled and escaped down the stairs.

I was the first in the balcony and found a great seat, an oblique view of the entire stage including the floor, which is really nice for watching Andrew Bird, because you can see his feet operate all the pedals.

Half an hour later the beautiful woman with the long dress covered with flowers and her partner walked out on stage and played the most breathtaking set of surprising, traditional, inevitable songs with unpredictable melodic intervals.

After the show, as we filed out, she appeared in the hall again and asked, “Found your seat ok?”. I sputtered something about her awesomeness.

She gets extra points for all of that stuff in the hall but, for the music alone, she and her partner Nathan Salsberg are mentioned here.

Rebecca Dudley at work | Photo Credit: TJ Dehn

3. What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?
I am a working artist and author, but I am an architect by training. The discipline of architecture reinforced all my tendencies to be responsible and tightly controlled, so the most exciting thing I am working on, always working on, is finding ways to upset my own apple cart, interfere with my tidy processes, throw wrenches into my plans. The point is not to make things gratuitously problematic, but to make them better, to open up new possibilities. I work alone, so this is a way to test my ideas. Sometimes it’s as simple as moving my camera to a new location. Other times it is as elaborate as re-writing a prose scene in rhyming couplets.

Bridge: “From ‘Hank Has a Dream'” | Photo credit: Rebecca Dudley, © Rebecca Dudley
Bruno Schulz

4. If you could add anyone, alive or dead to your team, who would it be?
Bruno Schulz and his Polish-to-English translator Celina Wieniewska.

I would love to understand Schulz’s editing process. His writing is so figured out, not a spare word or thought, perfected but still so alive. It is like he is telling the story while you walk down the street together, and then you slip into a living room slide show, one translucent memory on top of another.

And the woman who translated his work, Celina Wieniewska. She gets a lot of heat for cleaning up Schulz’s original writing, but her translation is the only version I have known and I will always love it, regardless of what the new translation reveals, this spring.

I would make them tea and toast and we would talk about the weaknesses of my latest paragraphs and then they would leave me alone. And we would meet the next morning and start again. Tea, toast, criticism, alone time.

Lights in the woods: “From ‘Hank and the Friendly Stars'” | Photo credit: Rebecca Dudley, © Rebecca Dudley

5. When the movie of your life is made, what will it be called?

Egg: “Cover, ‘Hank Finds an Egg'” | Photo credit: Rebecca Dudley, © Rebecca Dudley
Kite image: “Untitled, forthcoming” | Photo credit: Rebecca Dudley, © Rebecca Dudley

*National Geographic requires inclusion of RAW files for all photographs