Her “Noticing Nature” exhibit at First Lutheran Church provides a glimpse of how Joyce Kleven sees the world.

“Life moves so fast,” Joyce says when someone asks why she doesn’t do video. “Photography stops life for one second at a time so we can really see it.”

Her exhibit at First Lutheran and her sales booth Saturday at the Northern Town Hall include close-ups of lilies and poppies and the smiling heads of dragonflies. There are portrait-perfect photos of swans, loons, herons, and smaller, much more skittish birds, captured in vivid color -- gold finches, scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, Baltimore orioles and stunning progressive still shots of a hummingbird in flight.

Joyce grew up on a farm west of Grand Forks, N.D. Her father, Walter, an aeronautical engineer, had a passion for photography and when she was 10 years old, he presented her with her first camera -- a twin lens reflex Baby Rolleiflex with a top viewfinder.

His patient tutoring and encouragement -- along with his ongoing supply of equipment and film and personal developing of every photograph she took -- made him the perfect teacher.

Along with a passion for photography, Joyce learned -- or maybe inherited -- a teaching gene that served her well and made her a much loved and admired junior high/middle school math teacher in Bemidji for 33 years.

When Joyce started high school, Walter gave her a 33 millimeter Minolta. Her senior year, she put together a photography book for 4-H, won the student award, and was the first North Dakotan to win a national 4-H photography prize, which earned her a free trip to Chicago for the award ceremonies.

Throughout her years of teaching, Joyce photographed pets, travels and even high school graduation pics, but retirement in 2006 allowed her the time to pursue her passion full time.

She learned the art of digital photography, studied books on the use of light and focused on wildlife photography. Her home on Lake Andrusia provided countless seasonal photo ops.

When people started asking to buy her photos, she bought some rough cedar, framing glass and a mat cutter and went to work making her own frames.

During her winter stays in Florida, she photographed birds, wildlife, scenery and moon rises in the Lake Okeechobee area. For the past two years, a regional magazine in Florida has used her photos on their front cover.

Two years ago, during her winter stay in Florida, she developed some serious respiratory problems that were finally diagnosed back in Minnesota: thymic carcinoma. A miserable summer of emergency room visits, ambulance rides and aggressive chemo kept her from photography for several months but didn’t stop her from her first exhibit at First Lutheran.

Continued treatment and monitoring in Florida the next winter allowed her a respite from Minnesota’s cold, but it took several months before she had the strength to lift and steady a telephoto lens again or the stamina to exercise the patience to get just the right shot. And making her own frames was out of the question.

Cancer had slowed her down, but her passion for photography remained. She tried other framing and printing options -- metal frames, printing on canvas -- and, when she could hold the camera again, she resumed her passion and experimented with new challenges, like photographing the reflections in soap bubbles -- just one more way of slowing life down to capture it for a closer look.

A reflection of a lake scene in a soap bubble. (Joyce Kleven | Special to the Pioneer)
A reflection of a lake scene in a soap bubble. (Joyce Kleven | Special to the Pioneer)

Exhibits and sales require time and energy, but this year, she lined up her second show at First Lutheran and a return to the Northern Town Hall Fall Arts & Crafts show. She made selections, secured the date -- Oct. 26 -- and mailed out invitations to friends and patrons.

A day in a booth selling her work is strenuous, but Joyce loves to share the stories behind her photos. Stop to admire the way she captured the stream of water beads as an adult loon tosses a crayfish to baby loon, or stand, transfixed by the stop-action wings of a hummingbird, and Joyce, the teacher, will tell you the story behind the photos. Pause by her butterfly or dragonfly collection, and she will identify them by species and tell you all about them. The teacher cannot help but share the interesting details she has researched.

Just last week, Joyce learned she has an aggressive small cell carcinoma in her left lung -- unrelated to her previous cancer. Monday she started the first of a new round of chemo -- three straight days in Minneapolis before she could return to Bemidji. I hesitated to ask her about the Northern Town Hall Show, but she heard my unspoken question.

“Come hell or high water, I’ll be there,” she said. Walter would be proud.