Roll 2… Another film (Acros), another story. It suffers from what we filmy photographers refer to as “fog.” Fog is a kind of unintended density on film, making unintended tones on pictures.
Energy without intention.
I was telling My Friend- the one who helps me know what I know- about this second roll of Caffenol film. About how I had taken decent images that turned into $h*!!y pictures and was about to put said pictures on the World Wide Web. She reflected that I had taken down a “beautiful website” to post non-beautiful, technically inexpert pictures. She is, of course, right. I ask my students to take and show beginning crap all the time and find meaning in every step of the process. In addition to doing what I know I could do if I exercised the practiced control of an expert, I should be taking and showing practiced crap- acting as a beginner. It’s a matter of Integrity.
There is something about teaching in this moment that seems different. It’s not enough to do what we know we can so that we can help young people be and achieve something later. Turns out now is later. Preparation is practice.
None of us knows what this generation of young people will face as their children go to college. Or what the Liberal Arts will have to offer those college-bound children in the way of solace and promise, although we have some alarming clues. What can a relationship with this camera, this post-industrial, obsolete contraption and medium using chemical processes and, of course, water possibly tell me or them that might prove more truth than beguiling distraction?
This is as good a time as any for teaching learners to come clean so that the outside is compositionally consistent with the inside. Integrity. I’m pretty sure we need many possibilities while we figure out what it means to intend and act with integrity in an era that’s determined before it gets here by people who will be long gone when $h*t and fan meet. An era that, to this set of eyes, looks like it will require experts to begin again and again. This is as good a time as any for at least some of the grown-ups to figure out how to be more expert beginners. Even if we risk appearing full of $h*t.
This act, the public practice of beginning, while somewhat challenging to my ego, is precisely the point of a blog, as far as I can tell. The Expert standards I absorbed when we believed Expertise alone might save us are a distraction from the Integrity these students ask for every time one of them shows All The Way up to class. The web site was my best foot forward, but my best foot is only a couple of toes worth. I need my whole foot, best and worst, firmly embedded in this ground, this water (fresh on its way to salt), this rock, these waves in order to learn what I have to learn from this new beginning in this old place. I can’t pretend, even for a 110-minute class, to these young people that photographs can be the answer any more than physics or political science or any other disciplinary expertise will be the answer. They won’t give them answers to the enduring puzzles of privilege- a stable future, a meaningful life or babies with bellies full of nutritious food and they certainly won’t give them the answer to emerging puzzles-say, how to manage use of antibiotics that might still work when their kids get the childhood illnesses I survived. Truth is, I know that I can’t even pretend I know the questions.
Here we are. We still make photographs. We still read texts. Many of those texts still even come in the form of books made of actual trees instead of electrons spinning across an invisible host of raw materials mostly hidden from view, although that practice too, the one of holding onto a sliver of tree as part of one’s schooling, like the one of depending on our experts, feels like it’s on its way somewhere else. So the Caffenol images of the week are, as usual, from my Here: the head, the middle and the mouth of this river basin. I teach where the fresh water begins to gather and I make sense of what I learned near the place it becomes estuary and ocean, no longer even remotely “fresh,” having been through multiple bladders, industrial and research facilities, (and how many darkrooms?) upstream.
For now, I have the incredible (if somewhat terrifying) privilege of practicing beginning.
Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki purportedly said, “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” If he’s right, and I suspect he is, I will never be an expert. No loss. A mind with only a few possibilities sounds like a party I’d begin scheming to leave as soon as I’d arrived. So, here we go with the beginning. I’ve thought about this blog for long enough to feel justified in inflicting it upon you, whoever you are.
Many possibilities. Roll ONE of caffenol film is drying in the darkroom. The first pinholes are in their EXPOSED box awaiting the arrival of ABC pyro so I can learn inspection development. All 48 (forty-eight) of my students this semester are writing blogs every week, because, as we all know, many possibilities loves company, and lots of it.
My yoga teacher, a master in her own right, says all yogis are beginners for the first ten years. I’ve been a photographer for 25 years, an intermittent yogi for five years, a surfer for five years, a drawing student for almost two years, and a teacher for ten years. Fitting that I would take this moment, the end of the teacher beginner, and begin again. I could feel my many tipping towards few- shudder.
And, speaking of tipping, what about this Malcolm Gladwell business about a person being an expert after she’s done something for 10 thousand hours? I need to read that book. If the something you do turns into someone you are, do hours spent sleeping count? Or wishing you could sleep? Is the mother of a one and a half year old an expert at being a parent or does that job change so much, contain so many possibilities with each new age that parents are always beginners, ever renewed?
Paddling out through a thick fog this morning with my pinhole camera wedged between my teeth (don’t worry, Mom, it’s cardboard- an old film box), my attempts to keep the thing dry distracting me from the cold water trickling in through the back shoulder seam on my aging wetsuit -it occurred to me. The pier I just shot from the beach with that first test roll for caffenol (Delta 100)- now I needed to shoot it from the surfboard with the pinhole at the ocean end. Looking back from water at sand where I’d been looking out. Annie Dillard says what I see is what I get. If all that looking doesn’t constitute a privileged existence I don’t know what does.
The Delta 100 pier shots look okay for roll one. When I learn my ABC pyro I will find out if the pinhole worked. Tomorrow the third week of the semester officially begins. One whole class, having spent last semester learning their way around one process, now experimenting with what none of us knows, developing prints in instant coffee, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and washing soda. We don’t know what we’re doing, but pouring the used stuff down the drain is easier. A bunch of beginners. I can hardly wait!