A Selfish Theme
I was working with all senior groups this week, so I figured I would pick a theme that I just plain enjoy. I thought I was being indulgent, but it turns out almost everyone is curious about the world of pictures.
I didn't want to get too technical with the machines that take the photos, since I selfishly don't love the camera side of photography. But bringing in old and new cameras turned out to be the best way to get discussions started. Many remembered the old Brownies made by Kodak.
These were the first affordable cameras and they were popular from 1900 to the mid '60's. Ken could remember his first photo with one... a bridge in the Bronx Botanical Gardens. We laughed about the patience of waiting for film to come back from developing, until the wonderful magic of Polaroid became a trend. Jo reminded me in one group, about the poor quality of Polaroids. "They were first to fade in the photo album!" Kathy, the daughter of a quilt group regular, shared her memories and some cameras from her years as a photographer. Her Hasselblod camera was a big hit. The Hasselblod is most famous for being the camera used during the Apollo Program Missions. The still photos we see of man's first walk on the moon were taken with a Hasselblod. Our group raised an important question. "Is that camera still on the moon?"
We talked about the different ways of looking at photographs, besides in frames, albums and books. Many remembered taking slides and watching them on the wall or screen.
We had fun with these old viewing devices. The antique stereoscopic viewer was a little tricky, since it was hard to adjust. The old Viewmaster with circular discs showing memorable tourist sights was a hit. Nothing like looking at pictures of the White House with cherry blossoms.
We talked about how posing for portraits has changed over the years. We questioned why the earliest photos were so serious. We imagined how long the "posers" had to sit still while the photographer prepped equipment and then waited for the slow shutter.
No one shouted, "Cheese!" back then. A few had to remind me that taking a photograph was once a very serious and expensive luxury, not something to be taken lightly. We laughed about all the posing for cell phone "portraits" today. Kathy introduced the word "selfie" to many in our group. Young cell phone users today seem a lot more confident in their photo posing than I ever was!
A half a century ago, posing for wedding portraits was taken pretty seriously. My mom used to tell me the bride avoided smiling so she wouldn't look like she was proud to have snatched a husband. But there was one kind of portrait posing that often turned into a playful, good time... posing in photo booths!
These two photos have Katz Drug Store written in my mother's print on the back. I don't remember posing with my older brother and sister for this photo, but we look pretty serious. It must have been our first time. I remember being slightly older and how much fun it was to deposit the coins and close the black curtain. Sometimes there was a stool or bench and the more friends, the merrier...and sillier. Then there was the anticipation of the flashing light or beep that alerted us, the "models" to hurry up and create another silly pose or expression. And then there was the wait...until that exciting strip of snapshots dropped down after developing.
Photos in Magazines
Many remembered the amazing black and white photos of Look and Life magazines. National Geographic was too expensive for my household, but the intriguing photos inspired many of us with stories of travel and far away worlds we hoped to see some day.
We got off on tangents about photojournalism and fashion photography. Dorothy who is new to one of my groups spent many years as a makeup artist in Hollywood. She knew a lot about the tricks of making someone photogenic for the camera. Makeup helps improve the appearance of many in photos, but we wondered about the few out there who aren't photogenic and actually look better in person.
Emotions & Photos
We talked about how the emotions of the flag photo differ from this photo taken just a half year later.
Many smiled to see this one. Ken said he wasn't there in Times Square on August 14, but he was in NYC. "It was my parent's anniversary that day!" Since Ken also served in WWII, we can be sure his parents had an extra special celebration!
Having Fun with Photos... A Game with Bear Photos
I handed out photos I've collected from taking pictures of my small stuffed bear over the years. We talked about how deceiving photos can be.
It was like a puzzle to some, trying to figure out what the bear was sitting on, when the camera was zoomed in so close. I thought the photos would make it clear, but no one guessed the size of the bear. When I pulled the toy from my camera bag they all laughed to see he was only 2 inches tall. (the real bear is hiding in this pile of photos)
Photographs for Illustrations
I had to show the book that inspired me to start taking pictures of my tiny bear years ago. The Lonely Doll was a book that my sister and I adored as children. We loved the way the story was created using 2 stuffed bears and a doll. Their expressions never changed, but the setting and props and composition was manipulated to tell the story.
Stories in Pictures
I have often used Norman Rockwell paintings to prompt discussion in my groups. This wonderful book doesn't re-create Rockwell's images, but the photos engage viewers the same way the paintings always have. The Rockwell-like photos show scenes that most can relate to. They tell stories and make us want to know more.
Stories in Candid Photos
We discussed candid versus posed photographs and we agreed, the candids are more fun. We had some fun with these old photos, trying to guess what the story might be. What were the adults and children looking at, in the photos on the left?
Why might the little boy in the red boots be crying? We counted the kids in the car photo and tried to imagine the problem. Who are they? Where are they? Of course these are my old photos, so I should have the answers. But the only one I really recall is the car photo... we never made it to our vacation destination.
Framing our Faces
We had a little fun with some photo mats in a couple groups. We talked about how framing and cropping can improve a photo. We also talked about the dangers of over-cropping and losing some of the fun details in photos.
Sometimes there are hidden bits in the background that make photos more curious when discovered years later. Like spotting a retro cereal box on the cluttered counter behind a photo of "Mom". Or like this silly photo. Years later we might see these framed smiling faces and ask, "Who is that person in the striped shirt, sneaking behind the group?"
What I learned: When I asked Why do we take photographs? The first answer I heard was, To Remember. Obviously there are many answers, but for me that pretty much says it. Recording with a photo is the most fun way to preserve a memory. I'm glad I have a few!
Our Theme Was China
Even though the Chinese New Year is over two weeks away, this theme was a fun one to welcome 2014 with the Quilt Groups. As always, I packed way more than needed...3 bags worth of props and books. I wasn't sure which direction I'd go with my 5 groups this week, since the ages would range from 2 to 95! But in truth, I think I would have gotten along fine with just one prop.
The Other Stuff
The hats, chopsticks, books and dolls did end up promoting a little laughter, though!
We had a lot of fun with all the stuff. Chopsticks are always a hit. Yarn makes a very good Chinese noodle. It also promotes a lot of success with chopsticks, which can be sort of frustrating. I think Mr. Ming, who is from China knew better than to attempt trying to teach anyone. We had more fun watching all the creative approaches to lifting the noodles with the sticks!
Visitors Join In!
Maybe it was the noise of the gong or laughing over chopsticks, but we we seemed to attract a few extra visitors. The most special guest, was our sweet baby visitor. She was definitely more exciting than the gong! Cristina and Paul are staff members who often come join the fun in two of my favorite groups. They always add some laughter and energy! None of our visitors were Chinese, but they each shared knowledge of Lunar New Year celebrations with their Asian heritages which include, Vietnam, Philippines and Japan.
Others Share Their Knowledge
I had a piece of Chinese fabric with writing I couldn't read. What a treat to have Mr. Ming with us, to read the characters for love and dream and blessing! In another group, my little clay head (bought for 5 dollars when a nearby museum closed) started up a great discussion. There were two in my gathering at the skilled nursing facility who had been to China. They had both visited Xi'an, home of the world's most astonishing archaeological find... an army of 8,000 life size clay warriors, created over 2,000 years ago! What a treat to have my group teaching me!
Unlike most of our themes, China is not one that all can immediately relate to. Many of my seniors have never traveled outside of Texas and have little knowledge of Asian customs or history. But when I played a recording of some traditional Chinese music, many perked up with memories of Chinese restaurants and the foods they remember eating there. We had an amusing discussion about the lame fortunes in fortune cookies!
In one group I had 3 seniors who grew up in New York. It was delightful hearing their recollections of the 30's and '40s in their neighborhoods of Long Island, Manhattan and The Bronx. They each remembered visiting Chinatown and one recalled the layer of firecracker and confetti debris on the streets after the Chinese New Year. Ken, who grew up in the Bronx remembered the Chinese laundries. "They were on every corner!" He said there were some political frictions as well as too much competition. "They just didn't get along with each other..." until some kind of a union was finally formed. He talked about how hard they worked. "They weren't afraid to work. They would iron into the night!" He told another sweet story about eating delicious lychee nuts that were given to his father by the owner of a nearby Chinese Laundry. My mouth was watering for Kung Pao Chicken and eggrolls by the time our group ended.
Back to the Gong
But it really was the gong that was the spotlight of each group. Since we had talked earlier about boring fortunes in cookies, I put on my glasses and dramatically imagined I was reading the ideal fortune. "You will receive 20 million dollars, which will allow you to travel to all parts of the world...your health will be excellent and you will lose 10 pounds!" I rambled on with a bit of humor, then announced. "I'll gong to that!" I made my words light, because pondering over New Year's resolutions with anyone, especially seniors can be worrisome. I wanted to keep things positive and playful, but when I tapped the gong, I was surprised at how that magical hum seemed to change the mood of the whole room. While that gong continued to vibrate, the bodies in the room leaned forward and faces smiled towards the sound until it disappeared.
Fortunes and Wishes
In all the groups we took time to share our wishes and fortunes followed by a tap on the gong. Each person had a chance to share their thought, or to keep it to themselves...like birthday candle wishes. Each took the mallet and with the soft round end tapped the gong after their words. Even though I started each group in a sort of playful way, avoiding heaviness that some need to avoid, the shared thoughts always ended up being more generous and thoughtful than I ever expected. Many wished for good health which is always touching to hear from folks sitting in wheelchairs. And only one tapped the gong while keeping the thought to himself. One woman smiled a knowing smile when she shared, "My good fortune would be that 2 new babies will come into my family." One wished for good fortune for her parents. We didn't worry that these parents are long gone. "I bet they were wonderful!" I cheered. "Let's hear that gong ringing for your parents!" Another wished, "I hope my good fortune allows all the good things that happened last year, to happen again." And another smiled with this thought," "My good wish is that I am just here." I felt a moment of worry to hear these words, "There is something I have that keeps me from doing what I want to do. My good fortune is for that to go away." I wondered to myself what that might be, but just cheered on, "Gong it hard for that one, Jean!" and we all smiled. And then the tiniest and feistiest at our table took her turn. With a raspy voice that matches her bold personality, she announced firmly, "My good fortune for this year, is that there will be no more wars." I didn't hide my grin as I handed her the mallet. She paused and added "We need to keep our young people. Our young people should just be educated." I grinned bigger as I held the hefty gong in front of her. She slammed that tiny mallet into the dead center of the gong. The sound about knocked us off our chairs. The group recovered with laughter and applause. "I think you may have just done it!" I laughed. "You may have just put an end to war!"
Kids and the Gong
On Friday I met with my last group. The kids at the Shelter were vibrating with Friday energy. It was lucky I had something as intriguing as a gong because I needed bribery to get any sort of order. "Hey now!" All I had to do was hold up my giant, metal, bulls-eye gong. "If you want a turn with this, you have to sit on blue!" (the quilt's border) Even squirmy, wiggly "J" froze himself onto the blue border waiting and watching.
"First we'll play a game. Stand up on the blue and when I hit the gong it will make a sound for a long time. Don't sit down till the sound stops!" They stood and waited with grins, but when I hit the gong, they giggled so loud they couldn't hear how the sound continued. I laughed at their reaction. They finally caught on and stood and vibrated right along with the gong, (they're good at that) and collapsed when the sound stopped.
After draining some more of their energy, jumping along with gong taps, they finally got their own turns. Never have I seen kids wait so patiently. They were mesmerized watching each other and listening to the variations of sound. Some hit with great gusto and others tapped tiny rhythms. When wiggly J got his turn, I prepared for a blast! I expected every ounce of that electric body to shoot through that gong. But he surprised us all as he gently tapped once and leaned in close to hear a sound, so soft and gentle. He smiled and repeated. Then carefully he reached for the strings and turned the gong so it was backwards. He tapped the back. Wiggly-Wild J turned out to be the most cautious and creative gong-er I'd had all week!
What I Learned: Power of the Gong! That's what I learned. I've had it for years, but I've never realized how empowered kids and adults seem to be by creating a sound with that beautiful instrument. There's so much I don't know about the history of gongs and the many uses for celebrations and rituals. But I saw for myself how the gong can be as soothing as it is powerful!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.