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Foundation Partners with Friends of the Library for Photographer Visit to Schools

photo of Steve Jessmore

Let’s set the scene. 

Two-time Audubon Award winning photographer Steve Jessmore was visiting East Grand Rapids Middle School’s Learning Commons to speak with students. The projector was set up at the other end of the room. Chairs for students were lined up in neat little rows in front of the screen. 

Nobody was sitting down. 

Instead, students were gathered around the window, pointing their phone cameras out to window to take pictures of their own of a visitor outside, who also seemed to have come to see Steve speak: a bald eagle, perched in a tree right outside the window. 

And what was the award-winning bird photographer doing? Taking pictures on his phone of students taking pictures on their phones of the very same majestic bald eagle that appears in Jessmore’s photo on this page.

It was a once in a lifetime experience, brought to our students by donors to the Foundation.

In 2021, Friends of the EGR Library commissioned Jessmore for “The Reeds Lake Project: Birds Doing Stuff, 365 Days on the Lake.” Over the course of a year, Jessmore spent more than 100 days taking tens of thousands of pictures capturing the wildlife on and around Reeds Lake. When the project was finished, he shared it with the community at the Performing Arts Center in November. The Foundation partnered with Friends of the Library to bring him to speak to students at the high school and middle school that same day.

Jessmore didn’t just share his photos with students. He also shared his background and his process. A professional photojournalist for more than 30 years, Jessmore found the pandemic had brought his business to a halt in 2020. When his wife urged him to get outside and find something to do, he turned to photographing birds.

On the advice of friends, Jessmore entered four of his photos in the Audubon Photography Awards, which attracts thousands of entries from dedicated professional bird photographers. Amazingly, one of his four photos took first place. Another took second. “I remember getting cold sweats when I heard that,” Jessmore says. “How in the world could I do that? How could I do that the first year I ever shot bird pictures?”

Students at the middle school were captivated by Jessmore’s pictures. As he clicked from one photo to the next, “ooohs” and “aaaahs” filled the room. 

“The middle school event was amazing,” Jessmore says. “I loved being able to see the students react to the images and ask lots of questions about my work, the birds, the lake and the process. 

“My main recollection was how inquisitive they all were. It was a barrage of hands raised and questions at the end of the presentation. It was loud as the images hit the screens with a lot of pointing and screaming which I thought was nice they were engaged. It was a great group that had this wonderful opportunity to learn overlooking such a beautiful, special place. The eagle dropping in was evidence of that.” 

A calendar and prints from The Reeds Lake Project are available on the Friends of the EGR Library website and You can also view a video about the project on YouTube at