Knuffle Bunny Series, Mo Willems
It's a tricky thing to strike a balance between knowing a genre and keeping a healthy ignorance of the trends within it. So I started the photo on cartoon style in Knuffle Bunny with a healthy ignorance of what had gone on before regarding photos and picture books.
Inspiration for the project came after a drawing of Willems’ fell onto a picture. He then used digital collage to combine his ink, hand-drawn, character cartoons with his digital photographs of Park Slope, Brooklyn. Willems colorized the drawings by computer and gave the pictures their sepia tone. The series, as well as Willems’ foray into photography, ended with Knuffle Bunny Free: an Unexpected Diversion. Knuffle is Dutch for cuddle and Willems is the son of Dutch immigrants. It seems fitting that in Free, Trixie leaves NY (a former Dutch Colony) to visit her grandparents in Holland. When Trixie returns to Brooklyn she is no longer a bunny-obsessed child but a girl eager to be selfless. A disdain for drawing backgrounds drew Willems to the Knuffle Bunny project, but things didn't go as planned.
…as I worked with the pictures, I discovered that, unlike my forgiving eye, they did not edit out the ugliness of my neighborhood. Consequently, I had to spend quite a bit of time digitally removing air-conditioners, trash and garbage cans, so that the pictures could have the ‘emotional truth’ of my personal experience. It was technically challenging and created huge files, but ultimately made the story feel more real and handmade. (interview forBabble)
In Knuffle Bunny Too, Trixie accidentally swaps her bunny with a classmate’s. When neither child can sleep without their true Knuffle, Trixie drags her dad on a middle-of-the-night trek to make the swap. They pass Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza in a wonderful two-page image. For this wide shot, Willems reached out to his photography professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Tom Drysdale described to me their 3am shoot which took place atop Brooklyn’s Public Library.
I used a 4x5 Deardorff camera…We needed a very wide lens and I had an especially sharp 75mm Rodenstock Grandagon that was perfect for the job. The crazy coincidence was that the necessary exposure time of four seconds was exactly the same time as the "gap" in traffic circumnavigating Grand Army Plaza. We were able to make three negatives, and, as I was changing to a longer focal length lens for an alternate perspective, I heard Mo say, 'Oh, crap....they just turned off the flood lights on the (memorial) arch.' So...we were done. Happily, we got the picture.
Drysdale provided a little Where’s Waldo trivia as well. If you look at the far left side of the picture, you will see the Queen Elizabeth II miraculously captured between two buildings as she arrives into the New York Harbor—an example of how photography opened the door for some unimaginable surprises in the making of these fabulous books.