I think it's safe to say that I've learned a lot. This past semester, my most time-consuming class has been Introduction to Photography. I'd never had the time to take a photo class during high school, so other than a brief darkroom workshop sponsored by the photography club last fall, I was going in blind. By the end, I had spent over $45 on additional rolls of film, around $125 on film paper (each page goes for $1, and with a picky professor, you fly through test strips like nobody's business), and several hours a week in the darkroom outside of class just to keep up.
I'm more of a digital girl -- most of my work involves the good ol' "point and shoot", and the click of a few buttons take care of the rest. I'm still trying to figure out the abundance of Adobe programs to help with retouching, but I'm surviving.
But this photo class was about more than just how the shutter works. Especially in regards to unloading film in the dissociating pitch-black, a lot of literal blood, sweat, and tears went into my work. There was something calming about the feeling of popping open the back of the camera, or snapping it shut again, or the fear and anticipation when I would open the tank and unwind my film after developing, or when a print finally, finally came out just the way I wanted it to. By the end, diluting potentially toxic chemicals felt like routine.
I learned that I can't be afraid to start over, that putting a half-inch filter and a one-inch filter together does not equate to that missing one-and-one-half-inch filter, and that my own style will end up being just that -- my own.
I learned that a blurry isn't always bad --
-- and that there doesn't have to be a 'why' when I take photos; even the greatest of the greats and the deadest of the dead (see: Cunningham and Stieglitz) recalled how the lenses of their cameras were guided by "an unknown force". I see something beautiful and, without quite knowing why it's beautiful, capture it and stuff it in a jar.
I'll miss the Friday nights when I'd stay until eleven, twelve, one in the morning. I might not miss the smell of developer on my fingers, or the vinegary tang of stop fluid, or the filters that were too big to fit in my enlarger slot. But I'll miss the feeling of really creating something, of transferring the image by hand onto something I can keep as scraps of memories around the house or hand down to someone I love.
My final critique for the Intro class was a collection of fifteen photos that focused on different interpretations of femininity. There were pictures of my mom, disheveled, on the couch in her pajamas, holding her face and staring into the mirror; pictures of flower-crowned-girls in the Wellesley greenhouse, gesturing to spiky cacti extending to the ceiling; pictures of girls bending over one another and holding each others' chins in their hands as they applied facepaint to their cheeks and up their arms. It started a long discourse on how we see women, how we see ourselves, and how we see people who don't always identify with the traditional feminine image. I was surprised more with myself than with my classmates; I was challenged to see beyond the superficial image and ask "why" repeatedly: Why did I choose these images? Why did I place these two images next to each other? Why doesn't this image fit with the rest of the set? Why am I never quite satisfied?