Bridge to Next Semester

fourteenthstreetinrainbowssaturated

I think the most significant thing this semester has done for me is to demystify certain technologies of production for me, to make them seem less scary and more accessible. Prior to the course, I’d often been curious about Photoshop or iMovie, for instance, but felt overwhelmed by the idea of using them.  The idea of approaching them on my own felt too daunting, and so I just didn’t. If I could summarize the one most important thing I think I’ve gained from this course, it’s a little more of a sense of these and other technologies as not quite as scary or daunting as I imagined, and this is a sense that I think I’ll take with me moving forward as I encounter other new technologies.  Another thing I think the course has done for me is to make me more comfortable with sharing, discussing, and presenting my creative work in a group setting and having it critiqued. I remember the first class or two, I was incredibly nervous to do so, having never really put my creative work out on display in such a way before. I think it was a good learning experience to get used to sharing my work in that way and taking constructive criticism of it. I appreciated the comfortable, respectful atmosphere that was maintained by everyone in this class, as it helped to make this process more productive and less distressing, in my experience.

Beyond these more psychological benefits, I think many of the actual skills I’ve learned will also be really valuable going forward, particularly Photoshop. In fact, I’ve already put my newfound knowledge of Photoshop to use as part of a final project for another class—as part of a fake marketing proposal, I used Photoshop to create mock-ups of two sample print advertisements to be used in the campaign, and I was very pleased with the results. As someone planning on probably pursuing a career in non-profit work/activism, I think the skills that will be most professionally useful will probably be the graphic design/still image elements, including Photoshop, and the web design elements, including Dreamweaver. These are the two areas of the course that I’m in particular planning to pursue in further Practices classes as well.

In terms of myself, and in answer to some of the more specific questions raised on the week 14 assignment sheet, I think that at the most broad, the thing I am most passionate about is people. I know that is incredibly broad and vague, but what I mean is that I’m fascinated by what makes people tick and by human relationships and emotions—I’ve always loved reading biographies, and portraiture of various kinds is probably my favorite kind of photography. I love looking at faces, and I love listening to and reading about other people, especially when they talk about their intimate and complicated thoughts and feelings. The other major (and related) thing I absolute love and am fascinated by is language, words. I’m fascinated by linguistics and, as an undergraduate English major, I took classes in many different kinds of literature, and found myself fascinated by words and their meanings, dialects, subtle inflections, different ways of expressing one’s self, from poetry to journalism, from blogging to advertising. Clearly, this is deeply connected to my fascination with people, for it is in the ways that people communicate that much about themselves and their interactions with others, not to mention their underlying cultural values and beliefs, are encoded and expressed. I think these two themes have played out in a lot of the assignments I’ve ended up producing throughout the semester in this class, and I think they also play into my desire to pursue non-profit work, in particular work that deals with education and reform. I would love to do work that would allow me to interact one-on-one with people, to help them understand the world in new and expanded ways, to apply my personal knowledge and experiences to helping others understand and interact with the world in richer ways. I realize I’m still being fairly vague, and that’s probably because I still am a bit vague on the specifics, although my interest in women’s issues leads me to see that as a probable  component of the work I’d like to be doing as well. I’m looking at organizations like the Women’s Media Center in Boston, which highlights issues of women in the media, positive and negative, or organizations that do work with media literacy—that is, educate young people (and, in some cases adults) about how to “read” media messages more effectively and actively, so as to be able to recognize propagandizing forces and so as to be more aware and active citizens and media producers themselves. In this kind of work, I think the skills I’ve learned this semester will be invaluable in conveying the kinds of messages and teaching the kind of active awareness these programs entail. Not only that, but with something like Photoshop, that’s a concrete skill that I could teach to someone else, therefore enabling them to become not only a consumer of images, but a creator of them, which is a very powerful transitional moment.

In terms of my strengths and weaknesses, I think a strength and weakness, depending on the circumstance, is probably my perfectionism. This is a strength if I’m working on something that I feel interested in and that I feel like I understand and feel capable of accomplishing. For instance, while we were working with Photoshop, I spent hours and hours tinkering with my images, going well beyond the requirements of the assignment, trying to get everything just the way I wanted it and, in the process, teaching myself many of the intricacies of Photoshop not covered in class. In that case, I think my perfectionism was a strength in that it caused me to totally invest and take my efforts above and beyond the bare minimum requirements. When I think perfectionism becomes a weakness for me is when it causes me to give up or become frustrated too quickly, as with the short movie assignment. When I had all the issues with time code errors while trying to get my footage off the tape, I got completely frustrated and thrown off. Also, when I watched the footage I had and saw that I had some jostling or imperfect camera control, I felt disgusted with myself and felt like it wasn’t even worth going forward with the film because I would not be able to make what I’d initially envisioned in my head. Ultimately, I was able to overcome those perfectionist instincts which said “perfect or nothing” and move forward with the assignment and produce something I was pretty satisfied with, but I do think that in cases like those, my perfectionism often becomes an impediment that I have to circumvent in order to move forward. Other than that, I’d say my strengths, artistically, are thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and sensitivity, and my weaknesses are self-consciousness, insecurity, and, in some cases, inflexibility and desire for instant gratification.

Right now, I’d say the primary thing that’s missing from my practice in terms of what I’ll need moving forward professionally is probably more in-depth web design. I’m not sure how far we’ll get in our last class tomorrow, but I’m pretty sure I’ll probably want to pursue that further as I know how important a skill that is in the non-profit job market. I plan to probably take the web-design production class to extend my knowledge and skill in this area. On a more personal-interest level, I’d say the biggest skill set I’d like to acquire creatively is a higher level of skill using a camera (digital or film) in terms of features like exposure, f-stop, focus, etc. I’ve done quite a bit of photography in the past and in general I think there’s a lot to be said for the aesthetic I talked about in class in conjunction with the cameras for kids programs which go on the principle that you can get a lot from a simple point and shoot camera, you just have to be more creative in how you use it. In general, then, this idea of taking a very simple medium and pushing it to the very limits of its capabilities and beyond is very appealing to me. I like some of the unexpected results that come from taking something low-tech and experimenting—I often like blurry pictures, low-light photos, blown out images, all kinds of things that from a technical perspective are considered flaws. That said, I would love to have more of a technical ability to work with some of the more fine-tuned settings, so that I could create more polished and controlled images when I wanted to.

Ultimately, I’d say my preferred medium before the course was photography and still images and I’d say that remains true after the course, but I do feel that my sense of the scope of what’s possible with still images has been hugely expanded, particularly through my knowledge of Photoshop. I never really considered Photoshop as anything more than corrective/editing software. I thought of it as something for fine-tuning a piece of art, an image already created—I never thought of it as a tool for creating art itself. But once I started working with it I realized the potential it represents is virtually limitless, in terms of cutting apart and pasting back together, collaging, combining, altering, and utterly recreating images. This I find incredibly exciting and I think it’s a tool I’ll continue to work a lot with in the future.

Moving forward, I think I’d like to continue to explore some of the themes I discussed earlier and ones I’ve touched on in this course—exploring people and the ways we communicate. I’m passionate about issues concerning negative messages toward women and girls in our culture, particularly when it comes to our bodies, and that’s something I’d like to explore and work to counteract through my own work. I want to produce work that both highlights the problem of negative messages and unrealistic/destructive standards targeted at girls and women, but also work that represents counter-messages, positive messages and images of girls and women which highlight things about them other than their weight and their bodies as objects. Moving forward, I’m going to use the skills I’ve learned in this class as springboards to build upon, both in terms of technical skills and in terms of ideas about creativity and the creative process that we’ve explored implicitly and explicitly. I think next semester and going forward I’m going to try to take the initiative to start working with some of these technologies not only in the context of class assignments, but on my own as well. I think often in the past, as I mentioned, I’ve felt so overwhelmed by some of these technologies that only being forced by a class assignment has been impetus to use them. Now that I’ve, for the most part, overcome that psychological hurdle, I’m going to try to start branching out and experimenting with them on my own, as well as continuing to incorporate the skills into the work I do in other classes (which, as I mentioned, I’ve already begun to do).  So, I guess in terms of what I will try to do every day or every week that I did not do before this course, I guess I would say that I will try to approach my creative endeavors through the lens of expanded possibilities, keeping in mind the potential  of the various technologies we have worked with as I approach projects and formulate ideas for projects. Even more broadly than that, though, I think I will approach the way I interact with the world in a way that is influenced by some of the ideas regarding creativity that we’ve touched on in ways I’d never really thought of before. In this regard, probably the idea that most struck me and stuck with me is the idea of obstructions, and the fact that sometimes unexpected (or expected) roadblocks and limitations can shape the end result in unexpected and positive ways, even making the finished product stronger and more interesting than it would have been if everything had been easy and gone “right”. Being, as I discussed before, a fairly perfectionistic type of person, I think keeping this in mind will be really helpful in shaping the way I feel when I encounter roadblocks. Instead of feeling that such obstacles and obstructions are failures, I think I’ll be much more able to approach them as not only valuable learning tools but even fortunate, enriching parts of the creative process.

Finally, although I can’t even really wrap my mind around a budget of $150 million, I think that a creative project I would try to pursue if I had an enormous sum of money would involve the expansion of the Kids with Cameras program into many more schools and communities around the country and the world. I think this program and similar programs are incredibly valuable and empowering for children, particularly those who might not have grown up with any similar kind of creative stimulation. I think creativity is severely devalued as a part of the educational system in this country and I think an expansion of the arts in general, and specifically these kinds of programs that put cameras in the hands of children can be so valuable. I’m incredibly inspired by the amazing, unique ways these children look at the world and the beauty of some of the photographs that these children with little or no artistic training are able to produce. I would love to be involved in setting up and teaching in such a program. While clearly a budget of $150 would not allow me quite so lofty a scope for such a project, I think even that much could be a starting place. With that money, I could get a few cheap cameras and a few rolls of film, enough to start somewhere, even with just one class of students, sharing the cameras. That money could become seed money, since, once the clear success of such a program in one class could be demonstrated, it might be possible to find further grants and funding to expand from there.

All in all, I’ve found this class to be extremely helpful and formative, in instilling some basic skill sets, in helping me to think about creativity and aesthetics in new ways, and in helping me gain a level of comfort and a vernacular for sharing my own work and critiquing the work of others. Thanks so much to Virgil for keeping me awake and engaged on Saturday mornings (quite a feat) and approaching the material in a patient, good-humored, and understandable way, and thanks to everyone in the class for contributing to a very respectful and dialogic atmosphere!

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