Friday, April 29, 2011

The Mighty Pen, Teaching Kids Photography, and General Rambling

At the youth organization where I work, we are hosting a regional photography contest in which entries from several states are being submitted. As I've been sorting boxes of photos, marveling at the photos taken by kids, I'm reminded of what little artistry I had when I first started taking snapshots on Mom's little point-and-shoot film camera, borrowed for a trip to Honduras when I was fifteen. Photographing people, I made them look like cons in mugshots. Landscapes were generally busy pictures with lots of stuff but no real focus.

Many years later, I have a much better camera, more experience looking at the world with a photographer's eye, but am still nowhere near being an expert. I teach the very basics to kids -- the goal is to interest them in photography, not teach a college course -- and try to help them see the world around them as full of picture potential, but I cannot make them creative. That's gotta come from inside their own minds.

After showing kids the "rule of thirds" or why it's important to be aware of light sources, shadows, clutter, it's always interesting -- and occasionally frustrating -- to observe how some young photographers will only pay attention to the rules, producing technical but uninteresting shots, and some will consistently toss the rules out the window, regardless of how many sloppy, unfocused, or just plain bad shots they produce.
after the storm                       c. April 2011, KB

The best students know there's a time to follow the rules -- "use a tripod for night shots", for instance -- and then there's a time to just go with your gut, take a shot for the fun of it, for the experiment of it, for the moment before the light fades completely, the basketball swooshes through the hoop, or the dancing stops. Y'never know what'll happen.

That's how a lot of my poetry has been written: not because I intended it and followed some rules -- "Today I am writing a poem, and it will be a sonnet" -- but because the words were there and must be recorded before the moment disappeared. Same with essays: I have something to say, it must be said now, and the structure of the essay is dictated by the theme or the subject. Even feature articles and interviews have rules, but those can be tossed to the winds when formality would kill the piece.

Speaking of kill -- in a purely lighthearted sense, of course (laugh) -- here's one of my favorite Geico commercials, probably because it appeals to literature, martial arts, and the absurd little humor gremlin inside my head:

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