Last week I had the opportunity of assisting 7th grade students studying photography –Black and White photography. It involved dark-room techniques as well.
Yet, it was not what you might think. The students did not use digital cameras. They were using pin-hole cameras made from … cookie tins!
Analog? Why would this be exciting to a generation we like to typify as digital natives? Why would young people who only know –or so we think –instant gratification give a hoot? Why would a camera with no lens, no aperture setting, and no buttons appeal to someone who loves iPods and Flip cameras?
I wondered that too. But it turns out that the technique –‘art’– of taking a picture inspires them. They were fascinated with the subject, not the tool aimed at it.
So with a rudimentary, very temperamental camera, they realized that framing the context for that subject was suddenly very valuable. Black and White also forced the picture taker to seriously think about lighting and contrasts . When there is no white-balance adjustment it concentrates the mind! And finally it taught each one of them what they could not learn from the handbook or a how-to YouTube video: patience. Shadows and clouds move, people in the background suddenly dart across, the wind stirs things up …
I like to put it this way. The photographer needs to find his/her ‘story’ within the picture and try to convey it at the moment he/she clicks. In their case, the click involved flipping open the magnet that covered the pin-hole, counting the seconds and replacing the magnet. Tedious? Not for this always-on generation.
And to pull back a bit, I found a great example of how a photographer must have had to frame, study and wait for the moment to get this story. What might otherwise have seemed a very mundane observation of a woman walking on a lonely stretch of road.