Tonight I drove in two plus hours of traffic to get to the Creative Photo Academy for a class called Canon: Tips & Tricks. My husband bought me a new camera body for Christmas, and I was hoping to get some insight into how the new camera differs from the older model.
If you’ve ever had trouble learning photography, I would highly recommend Mark Comon’s Boot Camp taught at the Creative Photo Academy. I have taken several classes over the years from different places and this is the first class that has made sense to me.
BUT, and this is a big but. Photography is like math or music lessons, you need regular practice to get good.
I am so not there yet, but I am also not giving up.
The particulars of my class tonight will bore you, so instead of telling you about that, let me share a few ideas that were knocking around in my head afterwards.
1) I’m dumb
Now, I don’t mean that I’m actually dumb, but when I sat down in the class and the instructor started speaking rapidly in a language I didn’t understand (in this case, camera-eze) I felt a bit like I was under water. It occurred to me that I might just get up and leave because I couldn’t imagine that the situation would improve with time.
As I mentioned already, Mark Comon teaches a Photography Boot Camp. I really like his teaching style. In his class he organizes the information perfectly logically, with an introduction, a conclusion, lessons, examples and illustrations. It makes sense to me.
However, Mark was not teaching the class tonight.
The class tonight was taught by a Canon specialist. He had a wealth of information to give and he was determined to get through as much as he could in two hours. At first I felt like I was ducking and dodging as those new names and numbers shot out and exploded all over the room. You have a few choices when you’re being shot at- run, freeze, mentally disengage, try to negotiate, or fight back. I sat for a moment trying to choose between these options.
But then, I remembered that this is one of the curses of aging. We are old enough to know how we learn best. We seek out situations where the information we want is given to us in the particular way that we know we can best digest it, and little by little we begin rejecting other ways of learning. It’s just too hard. We say things like, “My brain just doesn’t work that way.”
I know nothing about the brain, but I wonder if it is equally true that our brains also don’t work that way because we don’t stretch them enough. The more we try to control the way information comes to us, the less we exercise this weaker portion of our brains and they grow weaker still. This compounded weakness then becomes part of our story- a story we tell ourselves so that we can avoid the hard work of learning something outside our comfort zone.
I decided to test out my theory tonight. Rather than take the information as it was flying at me and spend time trying to fit it into my preferred patterns of logic, I decided to just relax and listen. I made no attempt to organize the thoughts, I just let them float toward me.
After about five minutes, I realized that I was understanding some of what he was saying. After fifteen minutes, I was getting 80% of it. I took notes so that I could look up some of the terms later, but I was surprised to learn that emptying my brain of “my story” freed up space for new information to be invited inside.
While I applaud the developments currently being made in tailoring education to better fit the needs of children’s varied learning styles and abilities, it occurs to me that despite these differences, historically, most children, have inevitably learned to read.
Can it be that their brains are unsullied with prejudices of their own shortcomings? Might it be that they don’t yet feel a need to control how information comes to them?
2) Everything is an onion
The other crap that blocks the door into my brain, is the realization that with each new subject there is a mind-bending depth to it. You peel back a tiny layer of the onion, and there is a whole universe inside. While I found this thrilling at age fifteen, I now find it daunting to say the least. I now ask myself if there is time enough to master a subject. I wonder if it is worth taking up something new if there will never be opportunity to gather those famed 10,000 hours that lead to expertise. Shall I devote my remaining hours to never move beyond the level of well-intentioned amateur?
These questions, in case you haven’t figured it out already, are also just crap. It is as if the brain needs to lie a scaffolding of excuses down, so that you will have something soft to land on if you are presumptuous and audacious enough to attempt something new in middle age.
The truth is, none of us knows how many hours we have left, so we should just squeeze all we can from them.
3) Steve Martin, case in point
Sometimes I think that I really need to narrow my focus, pun not intended, and just choose one thing. If I just put down the pen, and the guitar, and the whisk and the knitting needles, I might be able to become a better photographer. But, for now, I am going to reject this notion. I am hoping that interest in one thing, informs the other.
If I begin to doubt this, I think of actor, writer, comedian, banjo player, art collector, singer, juggler, and whatever other label fits the multi-talented Steve Martin. He just keeps trying things, he keeps working, he keeps growing.
Something tells me, he’s not ducking the new information as it flies. In fact, just like in this scene, he doesn’t even seem to know that it’s gunning for him.
Those are my thoughts on learning for today.
339 days to go!