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Finding a Subject: Summer Edition

posted: 7.1.11 by archived

commonmulleinI’m not much of a photographer. I bought a digital camera four or five years ago, but I’ve used it infrequently, only on vacations really, to snap the Chicago skyline or the giant sequoias in Yosemite. Although the possibilities for photographs seem limitless (or maybe because the possibilities seem limitless), somehow little seems important enough to record.

Many of my students seem to be in the same position: knowing that they could write about anything but not feeling as if they have much of anything to say.

It was the constant presence of my iPhone on my hip and the cool photo apps I’ve been buying but not yet using that made me determined, a few days ago, to start taking pictures. With the photo-blogging of Lorianne DiSabato at Hoarded Ordinaries an inspiration and the summer-luxury of lots of free time, I decided to combine taking pictures with taking a walk.

creepingbellflowerI remembered suddenly the walks I had taken when my youngest daughter was a baby. After her nap I bundled her into her stroller and pushed her the two miles around the block. I would fill her fists with roadside wildflowers, trying to find as many colors and shapes as I could. At home I’d stash her in the baby seat with her favorite chewy-eared elephant rattle while I pulled out our guidebooks and tried to identify the already-wilting flowers: blue toadflax, jewelweed, bittersweet nightshade, so many fairytale names.

I decided to do the same thing with my iPhone and take pictures of each new wildflower I found as I walked. It was an easy start, to look for color in the midst of green, but I felt the pleasure of the hunt as I found each new specimen. As I walked and snapped, I thought of other possibilities I might have chosen or might choose in the future: types of berries or oak leaves, the yard aesthetics of my neighbors, the tensions revealed by cow in the foreground and looming McMansion still in its Tyvek sheath in the distance.

joepyeweedEver vigilant for Real World Experiences to poach for my pedagogy, I thought too of the lessons I might bring back to my classroom:

  • It stimulates invention to get out into the world, to pick a route or at least a territory to range over in your imagination and memory.
  • Start with a focus or question. (If I had not decided this was a wildflower expedition, I might not have found any shots to take. Once I got started with the task of documenting flowers, other possibilities surfaced.)
  • Turn the camera outward (cf. the usual student Facebook albums filled with self-portraits). Collect up the specifics without worrying about what you’ll do with eveninglychnisthem or how they’ll fit together.
  • Speed matters. You will see different things at walking vs. biking vs. driving pace.
  • Attentiveness to the world can be cultivated. Technology can both help and hinder that process.

I asked my students this semester to go out into the world, and I’m thinking I may try to design more assignments that require that sort of footwork. I’d love to hear any such assignments you’ve tried or considered!

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Categories: Community College issues, Holly Pappas
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