“Learning To See” documents the journey of macro insect photographer Robert Oelman as he captures images of some of the neotropical rainforest’s most exotic creatures. For many people of his age, retirement means relaxing, an occasional game of golf, and the decision of whether to move to California, Florida or Arizona. So how my father ended up scouring the jungles of South America in the dead of night with nothing but a camera and a flashlight has been a mystery.
I was often asked why my father move to the kidnapping capitol of the world. For an American to transplant to Colombia in the early 1990’s seemed crazy to his family and friends. No one could understand why an intelligent person would choose to do something so apparently absurd. But as he started to take photos and share stories of his experiences, it began to make sense what he was doing.
When my father first moved to Colombia, he had no formal training as a photographer but over time he has become a unique talent. He has taught himself all of the technical and artistic skills that he needs. Lighting, composition, studio design, printing, hardware, software, etc. As he honed his new craft, Colombia’s natural surroundings guided him. Flowers, hummingbirds, landscapes, and eventually insects became his subjects.
“Learning To See” explores photography, art, entomology, travel, and the rainforest, and its’ message goes deeper than its’ visual richness. The film asks what inspires a person to change and why it’s important to preserve the natural world that we inhabit. It underscores the fact that we as human beings have a much greater capacity to see and understand our world if we would just open our eyes and see what is in front of us.
ABOUT ROBERT OELMAN:
Robert Oelman Jr. was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1941. He lived in Boston, Massachusetts for 16 years where he practiced as a licensed clinical psychologist. In the early 90’s, Mr. Oelman was fortunate to live and work for three years at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California where he immersed himself in the study and practice of a variety of experientially-oriented psychotherapies. On the sage advice of a workshop leader, he traveled to Luchnow, India where he meditated with a spiritual teacher who was a follower of Sri Ramana Maharshi. After this profound experience, Robert “jumped out of the endless analytical psychology loop” and lost all interest in practicing psychotherapy.
Reading the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez inspired Mr. Oelman to visit Colombia and, eventually, to move there. He has lived in Colombia since 1994 and has a “finca”, or rural property, 30 kilometers outside of Cali in the Farallones mountains. He has been “romancing the stone” and successfully avoiding the roadblocks of Marxist guerillas for the last 19 years. His initial intention to become a writer quickly disappeared and Robert became obsessed with photographing the diverse and photogenic facets of life which are so abundantly present in Colombia. Mr. Oelman has taken up very complex and difficult types of photography such as hummingbirds in flight, fashion photography using complicated lighting set-ups, macro-photography of live insects some of which measure no more than a millimeter in length, and, most recently, panoramic photography using stitching techniques and a custom high dynamic range (HDR) method.
During the last eight years, Mr. Oelman has been an exclusively nature photographer. He has developed new techniques in live insect macro- photography. His orientation is both artistic and scientific. He has obtained the collaboration of entomologists at the Smithsonian Institution, the National University in Bogota, the University del Valle in Cali, and many other centers of learning, for the sake of securing assistance in the identification of the insects which he is photographing. Robert is no longer a local “insect hunter.” He, along with his assistant Cristian Fernando Lopez, has traveled to remote rainforests in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru in order to find and photograph the most exotic insects on the planet. Many of these insects have never been seen before in photographs, and to everyone except the most specialized entomologists they are completely unknown and even unimaginable. Not content to be only a specialist in the macro world, Mr. Oelman also has taken on the task of capturing large habitat-type images using an integration of complex panoramic and high dynamic range techniques; the results are expansive views of 180 scenes in which the details in the lightest and darkest areas of the entire stitched frame have been well preserved.
In regards to his insect photography, Robert’s intention is to do more than document the existence of little known insect species. His present aim is to take photos of such impeccable execution and artistic construction that, in effect, he will be creating a new form of fine art. Employing fantastic insects to take the artistic stage is a huge challenge but, if successful, may promote a much greater appreciation of this most depreciated animal group. Mr. Oelman also has another purpose in mind. Human beings desperately need a powerful appreciation of the natural world; otherwise the destructive forces will have their way. Hopefully, Robert’s photographic work will be a force for good in this epic struggle that now confronts us.
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Risks and challenges
The biggest challenge with a documentary is the amount of time it can take to complete. We aren't dealing with actors on a shooting schedule and this isn't a big budget production so although it's important to have a good laid plan out for completion it's also key for us as filmmakers to remain flexible. Having 15 years of experience working on productions of all sizes and budget scales really helps in this regard so I can effectively manage expectations. It's key to focus on our milestones but not rush the production in such a way that it compromises the final film's quality.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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