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!
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.