Phoebe Olmsted has come a long way since her days as a novice photographer, taking Polaroid photos as part of her volunteer work for the Girl Scouts of America. But that job kickstarted a 20+-year career as a photojournalist in New Jersey, as well as one-woman photography shows in three states. Today, she still enjoys taking photos around her home at Splendido, an all-inclusive community in Tucson for those 55 and better.
“I found the Polaroid camera very frustrating,” she recalls. “I complained about it so much, my husband bought me a real camera and I started taking better pictures.” Using that Olympus OM-1, she was submitting photographs to newspapers as part of her publicity work for the Girl Scouts, and the quality of her shots got noticed—in fact, it got her a job offer to take photos for the press.
“I went to work for a group of newspapers in New Jersey, where I had my own environmental column,” Phoebe explains. “I also covered all sorts of assignments—house fires, sports, mayors being sworn in—for a little over 20 years.” Following that, she started her own public relations business and worked with politicians.
Through the different stages of her career, she continued to take nature photos on her own time. “I’ve shot wildlife photography my whole adult life,” she says. “I take a lot of flower shots, as well as animals and birds. It’s funny—I don’t always have a lot of patience with my kids, but I find I have all the patience in the world for photography!”
Phoebe moved to Splendido about four years ago and is now an active member of the community’s writers’ group, co-chair of the travel group, and a passionate player of pool volleyball. (“That’s my favorite thing to do, after taking pictures!” she says.) She’s also an avid kayaker and fly fisherman who has “fished the world.”
Her favorite place to take photos is her home state of New Hampshire. “The best picture I ever took was there,” she recalls. “I was trying to capture the reflection of the fall leaves in water; I heard splashing and looked up as a great big bull moose stood up in the river. Well, he went one way and I went the other—but I did get the picture!”
Here at home, Phoebe says she finds great nature shots practically in her backyard. “I just walk around Splendido, and I don’t have to go far. I recently got a great picture of a bobcat right in my friend’s lantana,” she says.
Since moving to Splendido, she’s started producing flyers called Splendido Nature Notes, which feature her latest nature photos and some accompanying facts and insights, which she posts on notice boards throughout Splendido. Themes have included Cooper’s hawks and the short-lived blooms of desert ironwood trees. “My goal is to get people to go outside and look around—or at least look out the window!” she says.
Phoebe also shared her passion for nature in a more long-term endeavor: she played an instrumental role in getting the National Wildlife Federation to recognize the Madera Garden at Splendido as a Certified Wildlife Habitat in 2017. A small, private garden with a mosaic bird bath and bird houses made by residents, it’s a quiet spot for people to relax and enjoy some bird-watching.
Phoebe encourages everyone to get out in nature, as well as to take up creative arts. She knows her photography is helping her Age Well. “It keeps the brain cells going, and it keeps me very active because I have to get out and about to do my photography,” she says. For those considering taking up photography, she adds, “Don’t hesitate—do it! It’ll invigorate you and give you a purpose. Because it will enrich your life.”