Also known as the American Camera Organized Rodent Network
As a photographer, I can't enter a park or recreation area without my camera and tripod at the ready. No matter the season, there is always something to photograph in a park.
I have found that I am not alone; there are many others just like me. We like to call ourselves "Nature Photographers". We spend our time outside among the squirrels and chipmunks looking for that one perfect picture which makes our day.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the squirrels and chipmunks had the cameras? What would they photograph? Maybe they would photograph the photographers who were out photographing them.
It's enough to make you dizzy.
Well, here is what I did. As often as I could, I went to my local park (part of the Cleveland Metroparks) and started teaching the squirrels everything I knew about photography. Soon I was sharing my camera collection with them, and mailing out their exposed film for processing.
Things started slowly, but soon squirrels all over the world were taking pictures. Rodent photography clubs formed everywhere, and some of their pictures even won major photo contests.
These pictures are the result of several years of photographing my tiny photographer friends as they, in turn, photographed me. I share their stories, their life styles and describe the old cameras they use.
Everyone needs a hobby. Some collect stamps; others paint bird houses. My hobby is photographing rodents, but there is one difference between other animal photographers and me - I photograph only rodents who are photographing me.
Most of my pictures are of the wild squirrels and chipmunks living in, or around, the west side of the Cleveland Metroparks. It was there I first met Pops, the American Fox squirrel. Pops is one of the most curious and intelligent squirrels I have ever met. It was he who founded the photography club A.C.O.R.N., also known as the American Camera Organized Rodent Network, and he who started me on my hobby as one of the world's few Rodent Photographer Photographers.
I can imagine that most of you do not believe that these wild squirrels and chipmunks could ever start a photography club, let alone take pictures with old film cameras. The fact is, they only use the old film cameras because they can't afford the cost of the new digital cameras and all the computer equipment that is needed to produce pictures. I have been told that collecting acorns for a living is not very profitable.
The story on Pops and the A.C.O.R.N. club began about a year ago when I was sitting at a picnic table reading a photography magazine. An American Fox Squirrel (scientific name Sciurus niger) hopped up on the table and started looking over my camera.
I always have a camera with me and can often be seen hiking the trails of the park, shooting the local flora and fauna. The squirrel examined the camera just as if he was a teenager looking over new sports cars on a show room. I figured the little guy was just hungry and was looking for food. I grabbed the camera and hoped I could get a picture or two off before he ran away.
To my surprise the squirrel didn't run off; he actually posed for me. He literally sat up and smiled for the camera. I took five or six pictures, put down my camera and just gazed at him. I think I was in shock as he walked over to my magazine and started to read an article on macro insect photography (macro photography - the art of super close up camera work).
This, I thought, was not an ordinary squirrel. Just then my watch alarm went off. It was time for me to go back to work; my lunch hour was about over. As I packed up my camera and started to close up the magazine, I looked into the eyes of the squirrel. "Ok" I said, "I'll leave you the magazine, but I'll be back tomorrow and I'll want it back." Again the squirrel smiled, and I walked to the car.
As I looked back at the picnic table, I noticed two other squirrels and a chipmunk run out from the bushes and onto the table. I shook my head and told myself I was dreaming.
I'm not sure if I really believed what happened that day, but the next day I went back to the same picnic table. Again I brought my camera and a surprise for my little friend. I figured if this squirrel was as fascinated with photography as he looked, I would help him the as much as I could. I got to the table and found my magazine just where I had left it, except that it had two big acorns on top.
I looked around and called out for my friend, "Hey little guy! Come out here. I have a gift for you." A moment later, from the bushes, came two squirrels both of whom climbed to the top of the table. "Is this your son?" I asked. He responded with a proud look. "Well That makes you a father so I'll start calling you Pops! and you little guy," I pointed to the smaller squirrel, "can be Buddy."
Both Pops and Buddy began looking over my camera and chatting back and forth to each other. I could have sworn they were discussing the finer points of my digital Nikon. "Hey guys," I said, I have something for you." I reached into my camera bag and pulled out an old box camera. The camera was about forty years old and didn't have a lot of features, but I loaded it with film and added a little tripod to make it easy to set up and shoot with.
You should have seen the way the squirrels jumped around and screamed. It was as if they had just won the Mega Lotto. I spent a little time showing them the shutter and film rewind buttons, and explained that it was the smallest camera I could find. I watched Pops put the camera strap around his neck and then both squirrels ran back to the bushes.
I wished someone else had been there to see this, because I knew no one would believe me. I called out for Pops again, and said I wanted to photograph him with his new camera. He set it up and smiled. I took a few pictures then told him to have fun.
I went off and did what I always do - hiked along the river. some time later I walked back to my car and spotted Buddy running toward me. He had a finished roll of film in his mouth and dropped it at my feet. I said, "OK," and he ran off. I should have figured that the squirrels had no way to develop the film.
I could hardly wait until the girl at the drug store finished printing the film. I had to see what squirrels liked to photograph. Still somewhat in shock with disbelief, I opened the prints and looked them over.
The first four shots were blurry and hard to define. They looked just like the pictures I took with my first camera. Then I looked at the next photo and my eyes opened wide. The shot was of a chipmunk sitting in the grass. The picture was in perfect focus, shot at the chipmunks eye level and framed like a pro. I have to say it was one of the best chipmunk's pictures I had ever seen. Until I saw that picture I kept thinking that Pops was just curious, and I was playing a game with him.
Now I know that Pops is more than the average squirrel.
Pops and Buddy are photographers and with help from me,
could become some of the best nature photographers, around. Hey, why not? They are part of nature already. The rest of the photos on the roll were of average quality. Considering that Pops shot these pictures with a forty year old box camera, has only four fingers on each hand and the fact that he is a SQUIRREL, I would have to say Pops is as good a photographer as any I have ever met.
Over the next few months I worked with Pops and Buddy, going over their pictures, and letting them try different cameras from my collection. Sometimes other squirrels and chipmunks would join us, and I would photograph them as they went around shooting. I would bring the latest photography magazines (after I read them) for them to read.
I started calling our meetings The Camera Club, until Pops gave me an acorn. From that day on the club would be called The A.C.O.R.N. Group which stands for The American Camera Organized Rodent Network . The A.C.O.R.N. Group has grown, and now boasts a membership of over 1000 squirrels and chipmunks throughout Metroparks and Cleveland back yards. You may not realize it, but someday, as you hike the trials, go fishing, or just relax in the park, you may be photographed buy a bushy tailed rodent with an old box camera. If you happen to spy a squirrel taking your picture, remember to smile and say, "Peanut!" They always like that.