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Tender imagination gives flight to ‘baby’ book

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SAN DIEGO — Over the past 40 years, photographer Essy Ghavameddini has covered four Super Bowls, and concerts by Frank Sinatra, The Rolling Stones, Cher and Dolly Parton.

He’s been the official photographer for sports stadiums, including the San Diego Sports Arena, and for teams like the San Diego Gulls.

But all of that was just a prelude to “Welcome, Baby Hummingbirds,” a new book that represents a collaboration between the veteran photographer and the second-grade class at Stella Maris Academy in La Jolla.

“This is my legacy,” Ghavameddini said of the book.

The book features 29 original photos of a pair of hummingbirds rearing their two hatchlings, each photo paired with a charming caption written by one of the second-graders.

Ghavameddini’s work on the book began about two and a half years ago. He was paying a visit to friends, when their young daughter led him outside to show him a small nest with two eggs. He decided to set his photographic talents to documenting the hummingbird family.

Seeking someone to write the accompanying text for his images, he met with some professional writers. But none grasped his vision. He wasn’t looking for their polished writing and their large vocabularies, but rather for what he termed “baby talk.”

That’s what led the Iranian-born photographer to Stella Maris Academy. After all, who better than a child to write like a child?

He approached Principal Francie Moss last fall with his idea, and she told her teachers about the opportunity.

Second-grade teacher Michelle Campagna said she “instantly wanted to participate,” adding that the project was a good fit for her science and writing curriculum.

The 16 second-graders started their assignment last October and completed it just before Christmas. Every student submitted a caption for each photo; the best were chosen by class vote, with Campagna ensuring that “all the kiddos had at least one (caption) in the book.”

Accompanying a photo of an adult male hummingbird alighting on the nest is the caption: “Daddy is back. He’s come to protect his baby birds.” Another caption, paired with a photo of the hatchlings with their heads back in anticipation of being fed, is: “Hello babies, you are hungry, aren’t you?”

“It was exciting because we got to work with a famous photographer, and it was my first time writing a book,” explained second-grader Gala Riveros.

Leo Castellanos, another second-grader, said the process was “fun,” but also “challenging.” His classmate Sara Caglic feels “very proud” that her writing was included in the book.

Campagna said it was “a once-in-a-lifetime experience” to have her students work with a professional photographer like Ghavameddini on “such a simple yet beautiful subject.”

The book is expected to be available soon. There are plans for the photographer and the second-graders to take part in a book-signing at Warwick’s bookstore in La Jolla. Those interested in ordering the book can email essysstudio@gmail.com; no money will be collected until the books are available.

Ghavameddini said that close to 800 books have been pre-ordered. He added that copies of the book will be donated to local elementary schools, maternity wards, and public libraries.

The book “is different than anything else that you see out there. … There’s an innocence about it,” the principal said. “There’s not enough innocence in this world anymore — there really isn’t — and this is really just a beautifully innocent little project.”

More information is available at essysgallery.com.

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