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Ma vie dans léger et l’obscurité (or thereabouts)

May 11, 2011

Two months ago I checked a 70s photography for beginners type book out from the library. It’s a big, goofy looking book, whose title instills a bit too much hope in the average budding shutterbug. It is a book that could have never anticipated digital photography revolution, yet asks for a level of photographic engagement that only works in the era of digital photography. With its emphasis on daily skills drills and countless snaps, I can’t imagine what kind of 70s era person-on-the-go possessing nascent photography skills would have time to actively engage the book’s pedagogy.

What drew me to this particular book – besides its fraying cover displaying fresh strawberries bouncing out of a frosted bowl – was a nostalgia for a slow cooker approach to developing a new skill. I was the same way with knitting, hanging artwork and displaying decor objects. I was never engaged by the finite, rushed approach offered by websites and video tutorials; I liked the geekery of a book devoted solely to mastering one particular skill in a very specific way. Also, there was nary a flower, baby human or adorable puppy contained anywhere in the book. It was strictly still life – 70s objects, like beaded chair cushions in a taxicab, cans of TAB cola festively arranged and New York apartments that looked like set pieces from a Woody Allen movie!

The lessons range from the very simple: photograph something light against a dark background/vice versa to photograph an arrangement of both matte and shiny objects (today’s skills drill). It sounds easy enough, but that’s where the book’s magic comes in. There is a lot of woo woo about mentally curating the subject in your mind before snapping the button. And usually you’re asked to take a “mental” photo first and then CLOSE YOUR EYES while taking the actual photo. Again, unless swinging by those bright yellow Foto-Mart instahuts two times a day was all the rage or you had a darkroom at home, I can’t exactly imagine why this would appeal to the 70s shutterbug. I suppose that probably contributed to the book going swiftly out of print after one print run.

These aren’t the best shots of the day, but the ones I felt like sharing. But enough about me and my obsession with photographing crap in my house. How do you enjoy learning new skills, developing new hobbies?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2011 2:14 pm

    I agree, it’s so much easier now!

    As I remember it, when I was first learning photography as a teenager with little spare cash, I would buy the cheapest b&w film and just pay to get it developed — no prints. Then I’d look at the negatives, and go back and print the ones that I thought turned out okay.

  2. May 11, 2011 2:15 pm

    That makes a lot of sense. These 70s photography books are the best. They are both cheeky and earnest. It’s a great combo.

  3. May 11, 2011 6:49 pm

    I also like learning from books. Unfortunately that was probably explains in part why I failed to progress as a mandolin player.

  4. May 11, 2011 10:24 pm

    Cool shots! I like the second one especially, it’s got good textures.

    I can’t remember the last time I actively sought to learn a new skill. Typically I’m a “read directions, forget directions, try to figure it out for myself and learn by trial and error” person. I like reading about how to do something more than watching how-to videos though.

  5. hsofia permalink
    May 11, 2011 11:12 pm

    I’m very hands-on, don’t like learning how to do physical things from books – processing instructions or directions from a book that are any more complicated than a recipe is uncomfortable for me. I like learning from people who are right there so I can get instant feedback and adjust what I’m doing without compulsively worrying, “am I doing this right? I think I’m doing this wrong.” That being said, I can do simple exercises. My granddad gave me a collection of 14 or 15 lesson books on “modern” photography from the 1960s and they feature lots of photographs and straightforward language + exercises. It’s a good collection.

  6. AnthroK8 permalink
    May 12, 2011 11:46 am

    I was really taught how to sew by the college costume shop director at Belwah, in the 90’s. She made you learn a new skill every project, and the skills you learned depended on what play we were doing. AND she made you go back and do it again and again and again until it was perfect (nice thing about sewing, I guess, is that except for cutting, you can always do it again).

    We got to have that slow, learn one step at a time, deeply experience. But in a social environment (!!! big for an extravert like me), and with helpful but not overbearing supervision.


    I also learned some very odd skills in an odd order. For example, I drew the pattern for and then built an honest-to-god corset with sprung steel bones before I put in a zipper or pockets on anything. Which, if you are in 4H for example, you do not do in that order.

    Since then, I have found sewing to be a fun activity in part because I am not afraid of trying to figure stuff out. I find pattern reading really difficult, acutally (it goes how which way). But if I think about how I would make the garment before I start messing with the pattern, I often have a pretty good idea about what comes when in the process, and have an easier time with directions.

    I am also pretty good at taking a falling apart garment and making patterns from them, and then re-making the pattern, which is a nice thing to do when my favorite sundress or whatever starts to fall apart.

    I am not patient, but sewing is a skill I don’t mind exercising my limited skills of chilling the heck out to do. This is because I am realisitc about how long it can take (twice as long as you think), I know how well I can do something if work on costume shop standards, and I have the beginning to end process in my head as I go along.

    That is the perfect system, for me, to learn to do new things, I think.

  7. AnthroK8 permalink
    May 12, 2011 11:50 am

    PS: I do not, however, have a problem with people learning the slap dash sewing of the JUST CRAFT GODDAMMIT school. For one thing, a finished thing is a finished thing. And for another, even a haphazard project will probably teach you something new, even if it is raggedy. And lastly, I would hate to see another generation of people not know how to sew- I feel like a two generation gap would mean the skill set would really pass out of working knowledge. If JUST CRAFT GODDAMMIT will get someone to learn a skill, I say, have at.

    The slow and meticulous process just works for me, is all.

  8. May 13, 2011 10:59 am

    Ha, I love the take a mental photo bit. Though I remember back in photography at my highschool (not too too long ago) there was a lot of woo woo, and instructions that have an air of “you just need to feel it” piss me off.

    I like learning from reading or watching, as I often have a bit of trouble with immediate verbal instructions. The things I’ve learned that have stuck with me the most have generally been read. I usually end up cobbling together a method based on what I’ve learned via reading and trying things out, so I’m also someone who commonly learns skills in the ‘wrong’ order, as with AnthroK8’s corset example above (e.g. I didn’t know for ages about the ‘rules’ of mixing warm and cool colours despite being able to paint good nudes and having been taught painting). Often I’ll end up doing something using a method which is a bit odd or not technically correct. But hey, it works.

    I would like to learn German so at the moment I’m trying to find a language study tool that works with the way I learn, as despite having been on the path to professional academia a few years ago, languages were always my big weak point.

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