Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Painting with light

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(All the photos in this post were taken by my kids and I haven’t edited them in any way.)

I’m three weeks into my first photography class. Teaching photography is one of the things I was hoping I’d be able to do since I first started working at site, and through a series of (to my mind) rather unlikely events, my center ended up with two new Canon D1000 SLRs in time for the New Year.

Rule One: Nobody touches these cameras except myself and my students. I’ve made that abundantly clear, because I know my coworkers will be tempted to use them to document events – but if you don’t know how to use manual controls, an SLR isn’t much better than a point-and-shoot. So far nobody has violated Rule One, probably because they’re frightened by my fierce possessiveness.

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My plan is to conduct six-week courses for small groups of kids. My first batch is four – two girls sharing a camera and two boys doing the same – aged fourteen to sixteen. They’re somewhat pasaway (naughty) and I have constant trouble getting them to come to class of their own volition. It’s not that they don’t want to come – they’re all interested in learning photography – but they have little sense of their own responsibilities. Last class I laid down the law and told them that from now on I wouldn’t bother fetching them at their family houses anymore: they either show up on their own or they don’t.

They’re good kids, really. I would have the same trouble with any youth in this culture – and schools constantly do have the same trouble - and I anticipated this problem, along with many others. And they’re aware of it: one of my girls cheekily told me the other day that “We’re very pasaway, but we’ll always be special to you because we were the first batch.” And it’s true.

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That girl also happens to be my most promising student. All of them are making strides, but so far she is the only one whose eyes have changed. I can tell that she’s not just clicking the button; she has started looking for that thing that everybody in the world is chasing after – the elusive element, the only thing that matters, that we’re sure we can catch somehow if we just open the shutter at exactly the right moment.

But everybody has already made a lot of progress. They have to, with such a constricted schedule; six weeks is not really enough for learning manual photography, but thanks to a limited number of cameras and lots of interest among my many youths, I can’t really extend it any longer.

I have two class sessions a week. One focuses on technical aspects of photography – basically, learning (in basic terms) how a camera works and how to use it. So far the kids have learned manual focusing, adjusting shutter speed and some of the aspects of flash photography. I’m slowly building up to teaching them how to balance a manual exposure; tomorrow’s class is on aperture, and it will probably be the most difficult session for them. It’s a hard thing to explain clearly even to English speakers. The last two weeks will be all about full manual exposures.

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The other session concentrates on the artistic aspects of photography. They pick this stuff up pretty easily because it’s very visual. Maybe too easily – I find myself constantly stressing that every picture they take does not need a leading line, does not absolutely have to have a conscious balance, does not require a textured element of color that aligns perfectly with the Rule of Thirds. It’s great for them to recognize these things in their photos and in the environment around them – a camera is just a tool for recording something interesting you see or could imagine in the world, after all – but sometimes they see loose guidelines as rigid rules, which tends to result in stilted, self-conscious photos.

With that in mind, I’m trying to give them lots of extra opportunities to practice. As I mentioned previously, they documented the visit of the band Sponge Cola, as well as another guest visitor (nobody famous this time). I also accompanied them to a fireworks show during Iloilo’s Dinagyang festival last weekend, where we set up a tripod and the kids snapped the crackers and fountains.

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Undoubtedly their favorite activity so far has been our “painting with light” session, wherein we sequestered ourselves in a pitch-black alcove and drew patterns in the air with flashlights. In this way it’s pretty easy to make lovely pictures like the one at the beginning of this post. Not much expertise is involved here, but beauty needs no excuse for being. They also enjoyed ghosting themselves by setting a slow shutter and changing positions to achieve a double (or triple) exposure.

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I still need to work some bad habits out of them, though, number one being their affinity for taking snapshots of people doing the same standard poses over and over. I don’t really understand it – why is it so important to take a thousand identical photos of yourself and your buddies? – but they can do that on their own time, not mine. For a lesson on black and white photos, I assigned them to do a self-portrait without actually taking any pictures of themselves. I told them to photograph things that are important to them, that evoke their emotions, that explain something about themselves. Instead I got dozens of pictures of their friends rocking pogi poses and peace signs. Every single class I warn them “No posing-posing!”

But they always manage to sneak some in anyway.

2 comments:

Schellhase said...

Loved these pictures!

marcos said...

"no posing posing" that's funny.