MOTHER's Newsworthies: Rohn Engh, Dr. Paavo Airola and Cravens Wanlass

Learn how photographer Rohn Engh, Dr. Paavo Airola and Cravens Wanlass use their trades to better their communities.

| September/October 1978


People in the rural community are not as isolated from their markets as they may think. Rohn Engh finds good subject matter for his photography not that far from his rural home.


Brief: Rohn Engh

More than a decade has passed since Rohn Engh, photographer, "stepped off the treadmill" and moved into the rolling hill country of western Wisconsin. "I thought it would be a snap to market photographs from my large, economy-sized mailbox. But I was wrong," Rohn admits. "So — by necessity — we took to gardening seriously, and doing more with less."

Still, Rohn kept his shutters snapping: "I didn't have to travel more than three miles from our farm for good subject matter. Children with their parent, pastoral scenes, schoolyard theatrics, medical emergencies ... there was no end of material, even way up here at the end of the earth."

Interestingly enough, the "farmer with a camera" soon found that his rural mailbox was not a total loss after all. As word of Rohn's work spread, scores of publishers began to demonstrate their eagerness to buy his uncommonly natural photographs to illustrate textbooks, magazine articles, posters, and brochures. Not only local and regional firms clamored for the output of Engh's country camera, but Harper's, Woman's Day, Reader's Digest ... even THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

Furthermore, as Rohn's lens-work grew in favor with art directors, so too grew the exotic nature of their demands. "I began to get photo requests for iguanas of Arizona or mountain climbing in Alaska. These appeals went into the wastebasket ... until one day I realized that assignment I couldn't fill myself should be mighty valuable to other photographers — and to me — if I put them all together in a newsletter."

And so, in October of 1976, Rohn began to crank out The Photoletter — two mimeographed pages reporting up-to-the minute requirements from photo buyers — and mail it out to other professional shutterbugs.

The idea soon proved to be a lively seed that had fallen on fertile soil. Editors liked it because they saved bucks by not going through a photo agency. And photographers loved the publication because it saved them hours of research, querying, and pavement pounding. Nor did the newsletter hurt Rohn Engh's own business at all: "I found that by sharing what I know about the blossoming field of photo illustration I've not only discovered many new outlet ... but also learned more about photography and its possibilities."

mother earth news fair


Oct. 21-22, 2017
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