Adam Croom is on a tour de force blogging like it was 2006 blowout, and just the opening paragraphs of his latest post Toward a Polaroid Pedagogy triggered those reverberations that signals to me… this means more than a comment.
Adam shares an analogy from a book he is reading on a road trip, by Anne Lamott with a compelling tagline of “Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” The metaphor he riffs on is Lamott’s metaphor of photography for the writing process, how the old school wait for the image to emerge mode of Polaroid instant cameras (yes, grandkids, we are talking analog FILM).
But slowly, as the film develops of a period of time, the scene in which you’ve captured comes into focus. First, you see your family. But as you look closer you begin to notice there’s also a dad and his child in the background sharing a corn dog, and the dad is bent over as they both attempt to take a bite. You then notice that its dark enough that the lights from the ferris wheel in the background are reflecting off the water creating this cascading sense of infinity. And you notice that the tide is slightly higher than normal and it’s created this illusion of the pillars of the pier emerging out from the earth. And then you begin to conceptualize that the photo isn’t about your family at all. It’s about shared experiences; between your family no doubt, and the father and son; the ferris wheel and the water. Or maybe the pier and the water. Or perhaps nature and man.
Now the thing with metaphors is you can get stuck on them so much you get hung up. A lot of Polaroid images were crappy out of focus, poorly composed, or wrongly exposed. They faded. Just taking the photo did not lead to the ends described above. But if you never took the photo, then the chances are definitely that you wont have that experience.
With my own interest in photography and the process of pre-visualizing the image and than working with it later, I am wired into the metaphor. I did a few talks called Thru The Lens doing a metaphoric leap with the camera mechanics of aperture, shutter speed, and even film speed as ways to think about learning.
But Adam is taking us down an interesting, different path, (I hope I am paraphrasing this right) that way too often we focus on the mechanics of the camera, rather than the process of composing, even the pre-process of visualizing in your mind what before you might make for an interesting and good photo. And if you are doing snapshots, the process is easy but ends without more than just a photo. Click, its the family in front of the Grand Canyon. Click, it’s Jimmy at the beach. Click it’s Niagara Falls. Click post to Instagram/Facebook/Twitter. Click, click, click.
I’ve also come to accept that, for the most part, domains and the broader notion of the open web are not concepts that one necessarily understands entirely in a single presentation. It requires students sitting–sometimes multiple semesters–to feel comfortable inside this new space and identity. It requires–to stick with the analogy as long as possible–taking polaroids, waiting for them to develop, looking hard at them, seeing what works and doesn’t work, and editing one’s collection. But tell me one thing worth learning that doesn’t take some time?
On the domains part I go back to the first wave of Domain of Ones Own that was tested in 2012 when I was teaching/working there. At a Faculty Academy (sigh, I miss Faculty Academy) presentation on student portfolios, a pair of students remarks stayed with me. They said just getting the domains meant little to them at first, especially in the rush of things new students are dealing with in a first semester. They said that it was not until they had some more crafted experiences with using their domains in the context of courses and projects that it began to make sense.
Just handing people a domain, a cpanel, and a fresh wordpress blog, is like tossing an instamatic camera at them. A few might find their way to a meaningful use of the space on their own, but as Adam says so well, it’s not an instant photo thing. You have to be with it a while, iterate, sweat, yell, make it your own. I look back at my own first years writing in my own blog, and cringe at my words and wonder who’s voice that was back then.
Yet people seem to expect more instant gratification with expressive modes and technologies.
This Polaroid camera belonged to my Grandmother, she took it on many trips, but I do not seem to have any of her original photos… time probably took its tool. Several times in the last 20-30 years I have scrounged to find film and run it through again. There is a lot of anticipation in counting and waiting to peel the strip and see what you get (I think the metaphor Adam is more like the later SX-70 camera where you did watch it emerge, see pesky metaphors again).
2016 will be the ninth year I have done this; our group has close to 1300 participants, 177,000 shared photos, though there’s not much interaction. It’s gone through phases of eager excitement, to a bit of obsession, to now a rather healthy reflective habit. Each day I take a deliberate amount of time to go out with the camera and try to find something interesting. Or as I am going about the day, my antenna are always up for something that might work.
But this is more than click, click, click. After time, you get a feel and a sense of interesting light, or juxtaposition. Sometimes I see something and have a hunch it will be The One Photo, but usually I do not know. I do more of maybe grazing with the camera, but the whole point is to have hopefully 10-30 to choose from.
It only begins with the shutter click. I do not even review much on the camera. The joy of the process is my evening task of going through the photos on my laptop. It’s not until I am looking at them in Aperture (don’t get on my case about using old software) that the emergence that Adam describes happens.
I usually delete about 2/3 of the ones I took, and of the ones left, I touch each one in some editing way- cropping, adjusting levels, sometimes using black and white or HDR filters, color correction, sharpening, etc. I bet 98% of the photos in my flickr account from the last 8 years have had some amount of post editing.
While doing this, I am most definitely in some kind of psychology flow state, it;s more then sliding settings, and making adjustments, it’s some kind of dance between the screen and my mind.
Quite often, I see a detail in the image I never saw at the time, or I change the meaning or composition entirely just by cropping– do you ever think of deletion as a creative process? It is.
In fact I would argue that the process of taking a photo is one of deletion, in looking through the viewfinder, you are cropping out, deleting the rest of the world. And often in editing, you delete more.
So I find the analogies Adam shared for writing and teaching fitting in terms of my own process with photos. It’s not just taking the photos or even editing, it’s doing it over a long period of time, and not just doing that to count to some magical number of hours; a key to me is the comparing, and reflecting on your current and past work.
I find this process happens often in blogging; often my posts start with some germ of an idea, or maybe just an image, and the details, the shape, the path happen as I write. There might be some idea that writing is having this whole arc of a story/message worked out, but to me, it happens best when it emerges in working the words out on the page.
And… in my little corner of experience, the other element besides time and process is doing this thing, writing, learning, photography, music, goat herding (well maybe not that) with others, in public, and going about it with a wide eyed sense of wonder.
Are there really other ways?
Top / Featured Image Credit: that is my flickr photo of my Grandmother’s Polaroid Land camera… http://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/5570582660 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license