Every picture tells a story. Just not necessarily my story.

July 13, 2011

I believe in thirds.

A million years ago, when I was much younger, possessed of an excess of energy and still harboured dreams of becoming the next (insert name of mega-selling author here), I took a number of Creative Writing courses.

Give Canada a hand.

These were held at Langley Secondary School under the auspices of Adult Education or Continuing Ed or just plain old night school. Along with the opportunity to wax nostalgic as I wandered the halls of my alma mater, viewing the place through adult eyes (and, yes, it did look smaller), I was able to rub shoulders with a variety of other wordsmiths.

Inevitably I was the youngest member of the class, with most others being matrons of a certain age who, having grown bored with the macramé and embroidery classes, decided to try their hand at fiction writing, seeing as how they’d been prolific letter writers all their lives.

The teachers came and went but there was one lady, whose name escapes me at this late date, who taught a couple of the sessions. Where some instructors would allow us to write what we wanted and then offer tips and critiques, this woman had very distinct parameters as to what she considered to be acceptable prose.

You either adapted to her style or you suffered the slings and arrows of her criticism. I was young. My ego was still a tender thing, open and vulnerable, as opposed to the carapace of scars it now bears. And so I stopped writing like Me and started writing like Her.

Did it make me a better writer? I doubt it. Did it make me blend in with the grandmothers in my class? Yes. Most definitely. I became homogenized, a McWriter.

Which brings us to the present day and my latest foray into a class held at night in an educational environment. In this case, it’s an eight-week photography course taught by Richard Wood in a classroom at the Eastern Institute of Technology in Taradale. It’s not the most remarkable of locations, if only because I have no idea where the toilets are located.

Twenty-six strangers gathered for the first time last week. At the end of two hours, 26 strangers wandered away into the darkness. In a remarkable display of blatant professionalism, Richard launched right into his lesson rather than take 10 minutes to have us introduce ourselves.

I don’t know about the others, but part of my reason for taking the course was to meet other creative sorts and, had someone stood up and said they enjoy taking photos of people on South Pacific islands – just like I do! – then we could have bonded after the class and exchanged positive vibes.

Richard is, as you might expect from the awards listed on his website, an excellent photographer. I’d also venture to say he’s a bored photographer. That might explain why he’s now setting up and shooting these vast dioramas of people and props and costumes and makeup and wind machines in an effort to replicate masterpieces from centuries long past.

But there is a fine line between being an expert with a camera and being an expert with Photoshop. Being old-school in all I do, I’m not sure I like the slippery slope down which today’s photographers are sliding. At one time, the photo you took was the photo you got. Now, even the most mutton of shots can be dressed up to look like a prize-winning lamb.

What would school be without homework and so we had two assignments to hand in for tonight, based on the subjects Richard touched on last week: the colour wheel and thirds.

Colour is self-explanatory, but he wanted us to hunt down scenes where colours would complement or clash with each other.
Thirds is a bit trickier to explain but the idea is that horizontal lines – say, a ridge of trees or the edge where the beach meets the ocean – and vertical lines – say, the telephone pole next to the cool car – would sit on one of the imaginary lines that divide a photo into thirds. In other words, don’t place your subject dead centre. One side or the other, or up or down, apparently gives added pleasure to that part of the brain that derives joy from creativity.

Except, like the stories I forced myself to write years ago purely to elicit encouraging comments, I had to make an effort to find interesting colour combinations or some object I could then ‘force’ to the side of my photo, either by moving the camera or myself.

This is not my style of photography – I specialize in people caught in candid moments – and I’m not particularly happy with the results. I handed them in to meet the class requirement but I’m not sure I’d bother posting them anywhere but with this blog.

My worst fear now is that Richard will look at them and say something like, “Yes, you have grasped the concept of thirds. But, holy crap!, this is a boring photo.”

One week down. Seven lessons yet to go. Have I learned anything yet? Actually I have and it’s this: Staying true to your own style isn’t always as easy as dividing by three.

Yes, Richard did nudge me out of my comfort zone and force me to view my surroundings with a different eye. The end result may be photos he likes but I have little use for them.


One Response to “Every picture tells a story. Just not necessarily my story.”

  1. I am writing an article about Oscar Temaru. You have also written an interesting article about him. I was wondering if I could use the photo of him. I do not have a recent photo for my article. My article isn’t a commercial venture.

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