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Photography, Fine Art, Wet Plate Collodion, Alternative photography

How to teach children photography as it would be pure magic!

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As you probably know I have done many workshops in my life, I even started and running a festival of documentary photography Fotopub for eight years. Even now I still have a workshop at least one every month. This week I had a workshop in elementary school for 8 year olds as a volunteer. Because I had many workshops for kids of different ages and tried different approaches, so in this post I will share with you the most effective way to introduce children to photography.

For children up to age of ten my workshop has three sages. First to present photography as a kind of magic, but a real magic, not a cheap trick!  Secondly they have to do the magic by themselves and most importantly to bring something home to show their parents “the proof” they were actually making magic!

Simple? It is! There are many ways to do it, but let me show you how I’m doing it. Firstly I ask if somebody in this room has ever take any photograph? You always want to start with simple question, something that everybody thinks, oh, I can do this! The next one has to be a tricky one. Can you make your own telephone with a camera?

Then I explain that photography in its principle is very simple process, very much like cooking. And we all know that cooking is kind of magic, how else can our mothers transform carrot, that we all know it is inedible and horrible into such a delicious soup?

… and today we will do just that, we will do magic! I hand them “the magic paper”, which is basically plain silver-gelatin photo paper. They lay on it a leaf (they had a homework to bring a leaf) and press it with a piece of glass. Few minutes later they already notice that the paper is turning dark-blue colour. Of course I tell them not to touch it, we will look the lumen print on the very end! (Jill Enfield on Lumen Prints)

Then we go outside and everybody looks trough a view camera and notice that the image is flipped upside down and that although their colleagues all have right hand in the air, through camera it appears that they are waving with left arm!  How could that be?

I ask them if somebody has ever seen the inside of a mobile phone or digital camera and always there is one kid (always a boy) that has seen whole lot of wires, cables, chips and other electronic stuff.

Then I ask if they want to see the inside of my camera, the old view bellow camera? Do you want to know the secret why is the projected image on the focusing screen turned up-side down and left to right? And everybody is getting so excited, but then I cover the camera with a black cloth, take away the lens, take away the focusing screen, look under the black cloth and make a silly face, being surprised what have I found out, then I remove the cloth and reach with my hand trough the camera.

They do not understand how is this possible that small mobile phone has so much electronics, whereas my large-format camera has only empty space. I explain them that the magic force in action is called physics! And the other magic force that record the photograph is called chemistry and let me show you how it works. I pull out of my pocket a film holder, we make a group picture. In the classroom I put the film in developing tank and ask one student to pour developer and the other to wipe any leak drops and take care of the timer.

I repeat that the photography is in its essence a very simple process and I take a candy-box and explain that this is a camera. Everybody laughs, but it is real camera obscure. We go in a tent, that is my mobile darkroom, load a pice of ordinary silver-gelatin paper and expose it on the window. We develop an image and sky is black, whereas a tree is white! How can that be, I ask?

We look at “the magic paper” with tree leaf on them on their desks and notice that the paper became dark. Why did it became dark, I ask? They are struggling with the concept that it became dark because it was exposed to the light. Then I ask them if it became dark because the paper was exposed to dark? No, in the classroom, light was turned on all the time. They came to a conclusion that it was actually the light that made the paper go dark! Then I ask them to look out of the window and ask which is brighter the sky or the tree and of course in reality the sky is bright and the tree is dark, whereas in the photograph we made with the candy-box camera obscure is just the opposite. They know the answer why it is so. Now it’s time to learn the new word: A NEGATIVE!

Meanwhile we developed and fixed the film of our group photo. We anxiously open the developing tank and long and behold, the photograph is actually a negative one! I say in amazement, that this can not be their photograph, since there are only black people on the film! Of course they recognise themselves, but I ask them how come they have black faces on the film? One bright kid (usually girl) explains that we are looking the same thing as it was the tree image from the candy-box. Correct, what is the name for it? The negative!

We speed dry the negative with a hairdryer and then we make a contact copy in the darkroom. It is great because the first contact-copy photographs are either too bright or too dark, but then we adjust exposure and the last prints are perfect! Why were those prints too bright? How did we solve it later?

There is another test while exposing. I say I will time 20 seconds with my watch while they count twenty seconds quietly. When they will think the 20 seconds has passed, they say twenty loudly! Then some of them are saying twenty too soon, some are too late, some are actually exact, but the result is not important, it’s important that they have a challenge how long does 20 seconds take. And keep the focus 🙂

After we develop the prints we are having a laugh how we look like. One photograph taken is a serious posture and the second one is a funny one.

At the end they go to their lumen prints that were exposing for an hour and a half and they see a beautiful photogram of a leaf. The photogram is still light sensitive, there is not enough time to fix and dry all of them, so they take the photogram home in their school-book, hidden away from daylight. At home they can show it to parents, but the photogram will eventually become totally dark. It is a magic paper nevertheless!

We finish the workshop with really hard questions for them. Like why is the paper sensitive to white light, but not to red light? I ask them if they can describe the spectrum of a rainbow, but in a correct order. On the end I say that red is at one side of the spectrum, blue and violet is on the other. I say one has more energy then the other, which one has greater energy red or blue colour? After few more suggestive questions we all come to conclusion that red light has less energy then white light, that is why the photo-sensitive paper, or our “magic paper” is not sensitive to red light. Then I ask them if they ever heard about infrared light? No, they have not. We can not see, smell, taste or hear infrared light, but we have a sense to feel it. How can we feel infrared light? (it’s heat of course) I finish with explaining that light is amazing energy and what we see is very very tiny part of the rainbow. I’m ending that there are infrared cameras that can see a person trough a wall! Just like Superman! I told you we will be talking about the real magic!

And this is how my one a half hour workshop for kids ends. That was on Wednesday.


 

In October and November I had 12 hour (six times 2 hours) long workshop for kids from 11 to 15 years. Our goal was to make 12 images for calendar that will be published in local newspaper Vrelec. I think this post is too long already, so let me just summarise how our workflow differed. First of all there was no analog photography, just digital photography with their cameras. I had one digital SLR with me, so the kid that had to photograph with a phone, suddenly had the best camera in the group. The first lesson was on observing. We walked down to the river  and observe a particular stone in the river from one side, the other side and observing how is the scene changing. Where is the sky, how does the background changes, how does perspective changes, etc. From one point of view sones were backed by branches, whereas from the other point of view we did see a perspective of a river stream in first plane, stones in the middle and sky in the back. Trees were on opposite banks, making nice framing.

About this workshop let me tell you that we learned a lot about postprocessing and Lightroom and Photoshop. Because we had only one computer, the others were bored, so I gave them a task to photograph a drop of milk. I will not explain you how have we done it, we did it very simple, that one person triggered the camera, the other person dropped the drop and with the other hand triggered a handheld speed light flash. But HERE are tons of videos on the subject.

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Written by Borut Peterlin

13 February, 2016 at 13:03

3 Responses

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  1. I’ve been a visiting artist in schools and I learned and laughed so much with the children! their ideas and concepts are so different to when I was their age: it’s a privilege to be part of their learning 🙂 bet they loved your workshops and will remember them for a long time to come

    chocolategirl64

    13 February, 2016 at 14:35

  2. Brilliant!

    Jack Lowe

    14 February, 2016 at 15:15

  3. Indeed! I remember my first hours being in a darkroom!

    Anonymous

    16 February, 2016 at 01:44


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