Putting on the educator hat

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Well, it’s well into the new year, and as usual, I’m doing a pretty good imitation of a hamster in its wheel.  My newest challenge isn’t photography at all – it’s trying to teach my 4.5 year-old what every first grader needs to know.

Yes, he’s 4.5.  Cognitively, he’s a good bit higher in some things.  Which makes my job sooooo much more fun!

Corbin has Sensory Processing Disorder, and what currently looks like ADHD.  The jury’s still out on that one since he’s too young to formally diagnose.  SPD is a big enough problem, and when you add that to his behavioral issues he does not function in a traditional educational setting at all.  Enter: teacher mommy.   On top of everything else I’m taking on the mind-boggling challenge of teaching my kid in a format that he can work with.

His fine motor skills are nil because of his SPD, and he has the attention span of a gnat.  He has major impulse control issues – in Corbin’s world, it’s “I think, therefore I do.”

Despite all that, he’s bright, inquisitive, and scarily smart.  Hence a conversation the other day at the dinner table:

Corbin: “mommy, what are those things in your dinner?”

Me: “oh, the bones in the ribs?

Corbin: “yeah, what are those for?”

Me: brief explanation of rib cage, what it protects, and what’s in his.

Corbin: “so, what does my heart do?

Me: brief explanation of heart pumping oxygen around his body.

Corbin: “OK. That makes a lot of sense.”

While are a lot of resources out on the internet for teachers and parents, most of those involve a lot of writing, repetition, and forgive the phrase, dumbed-down information.  I can’t just pop onto the web and print out a project for him to do.  Nope, I have to reinvent the wheel.

And right now I’m just a few steps ahead of him.  I’m doing projects on things every kindergartner needs to know (My neighborhood, my country, etc) and things that he asks for, like space shuttles, earthworms, and tornadoes, to name a few.

I start with the subject, jot down the key points I want him to learn, and then figure out a way to help him learn with hands-on, active, low writing activities.  For oceans we tasted salt water and made an ocean in a bottle. We colored in a map of the oceans and learned about who lives in it and the different zones, as well as learning about Boyan Slat and what the kid inventor is trying to do about ocean garbage.  If you’re an educator reading this, you’re probably thinking “well, duh!”  I’m not an educator.  Not by trade, learning, or inclination.

So, again, my work is put on hold.  It’s not OK, but it’s necessary.  And for all you wonderful people posting pictures and kid-friendly graphics on the internet, you have my heartfelt thanks.  I didn’t have to re-make the space shuttle cycle thanks to you guys!

 

 

My kid could do that! (he did)

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Corbin is 2 years old.  Well, 2 and a few months, which in kid world is FOREVER!  He considers himself such a big boy, especially when he sees all the babyish things his little sister does like drool everywhere, be incredibly boring, and not play with all the cool toys.  (although both he and the dog thought the squeaky teether Anarah recently acquired was a wonderful thing and totally wasted on her.)

And since he’s such a big boy, it’s only natural that he move on past the boring, dated squishy toys and onto something better.  A techno-gadget toy.  One that actually does something.  Like my old camera.  It has all those wonderful buttons (oops, he turned on the red-eye!) and the shiny thing in the front (cue Corbin fingerprint photographs.)  And it makes gadget noises!  Awesome!

Once he got over the shiny not-so-newness of his new, supervised toy, he got down to the nitty-gritty of what you can actually do with it.  Since it does have a view screen on it despite being an absolute dinosaur, he’s learning to frame his pictures and hold the camera still while he takes the shot he wants.  And he certainly knows what he wants – I was told in definite tones on a walk recently, “take pictures of trees.  Pictures of leaves.”  Which he then proceeded to do.  He’s fascinated with the year rings in tree stumps, and the first time we saw some on our walk, he shot over to them and started snapping away.

It’s terrifying and cute at the same time to watch him hold up the camera and concentrate on the view screen.  He’s so serious!  I’ve seen that same look on professional photographers trying to get that perfect shot.

House rules: you must always wear the strap around your neck.  Problem is, when he bends over the camera smacks the ground.  I’ll have to get a smaller strap for my budding photographer.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the camera won’t last that long though – after all, he is two!

On our last photo shoot in a visit to Shenandoah National Park, I pulled out my camera to get a shot of him sitting on a log.  He immediately hopped up and said “Corbin take pictures!”  Um, no!  Mommy’s camera is off limits!

Humor aside, I’m fascinated to watch him take pictures.  What he decides to shoot, the viewpoint, and the angle are all uniquely childlike.  What we wouldn’t consider worth a second glance he finds interesting.  He generally shoots it from the viewpoint that catches his interest – a child’s eye level, and up close.  I’m super proud of him, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with this in the future.

The depressing thing is, with an auto setting and decent lighting, you can’t really tell a 2 year-old took the shot.  Digital: so simple a toddler can do it.

The best camera…

 

is the one you have with you (or so someone once said that has been quoted over and over and I’m too lazy to look up the source.)

I’m seriously loopy tonight, so bear with me.  A bad case of strep throat and an infant with a double ear infection isn’t showing off my dying neurons to their best ability.

Anyway.

 

For  a while now, we’ve been meaning to upgrade our phones.  What we had was more than sufficient for our needs, but we knew our needs were going to be changing.  So, we waited until we knew exactly what the specifics were before we went out and upgraded.  I am the lucky beneficiary of my husband’s work needs – we now have smart phones, 4G, and unlimited texting that I’ve been putting to the test.  Yup, I know.  We were SO far behind the times it was sad.  Whatever.

Now, specifically, our previous phones had cameras.  Sort of.  They were  really pathetic cameras and I laughed at the file size after playing around with it.  After that, I resolved to use our infinitely better Canon for all our photo needs.  And really, I didn’t truly need a phone camera that did a great job anyway.

Now, I’ve always kept an eye out on the growing Iphone photography genre.  It fascinates me what a basic camera and a few fancy apps can do to an image – and some of them are quite lovely.  A lot of good photographers out there are producing gorgeous photographs with just their phones.  And as long as you’re viewing the image on something like…the phone….the image is super duper awesome.  Problem is, as soon as you pop it onto a computer or try to print it out you run into the problem of file size.  Yup, tiny files, relatively speaking.

Nine times out of ten though, who cares?  Most of the images I take with my phone will never go larger than a 4×6 if they get that far.  And I have to admit, having a simple camera (with a flash) that I can whip out of my pocket and capture spur of the moment images with is a handy thing.

Like this one.  Thanks to a very gracious floral employee at our favorite grocery store, Corbin got to experience his first balloon.  I know, I’m depriving the kid.  He didn’t get his first balloon until he was 8 months old.  It simply didn’t occur to me that he might actually like to have a balloon, since I’ve never been all that fond of them myself.  Unlike bubbles, which he first  experienced when he was old enough to move into the big bathtub (so we could avoid a huge mess.)  Incidentally, he loves both – bubbles and bathtub.

Corbin wasn’t sure what to think of this balloon thing.  It floated, and it followed him around the store the whole time we shopped.  By the time we checked out he had decided it was a good thing to have around, and he talked to it as it bobbed around the back of the car on the way home.  Daddy got him some fancy mylar balloons for Valentine’s Day and Corbin discovered the joys of balloon kickboxing.  We sure got a lot of wiggles out of that child doing that.  Gave him a good workout!

So.  Good images aside (poor lighting here, with a deplorable noise situation still produced a decent image with even a hint of balloon movement) what’s the scoop on phone cameras?  I was once asked how many megapixels my camera had, and when I replied with the number, the guy said in a pitying tone, “my phone has more than that camera does!”  And I thought (but didn’t say) “uh huh, but how big is the sensor to capture those pixels?”  Because when you’re talking size, that’s what really matters.  Not the number of megapixels (although that’s important too) but the size of the sensor.  Not surprisingly, the more expensive and “professional” the camera, the bigger the sensor.

Here’s why:  that sensor is what captures the information.  I’m a little fuzzy on the technical size of things, but I do know that when you’re talking images, the more information, the better.  You can always edit down the info but you can’t add it back.  Which, in a nutshell, is why I hate jpg files – they compress the image which loses little bits of information here and there.

I would absolutely love to have a digital back to go on my large format camera.  Imagine a digital sensor the size of 4×5 film.  I’m in awe.  That’s what you see a lot of the serious studio photographers using, and if you’re ever bored enough to watch America’s Next Top Model (I watched pre-baby for some light-hearted fun – ostensibly photography research for the the photo shoots) you’ll see quite a few of the studio shoots are done with a large format camera tethered to a computer.  I can’t even imagine the size hard drive you would need to store some of those images!

Not surprisingly, a digital back is massively expensive.  Perhaps someday.  For now, I’m happily taking quite a few decent baby pics with my small, portable phone.  Things like Corbin’s first carousel ride, having his first egg (scrambled, he loved it) and catching that oh-so-cute face smiling.  Which is a very difficult thing to do, I’ll have you know.  The important photo shoots are still done with our trusty Canon for good quality images that I can tweak, but the random snapshots?  The phone, and its 8 megapixel glory work quite well.

 

Note: I absolutely forgot to do any editing to this image.  What you see is straight from the phone.  Not too bad, right?

 

Blue Ribbons

 

 

I’m pretty happy right now – I entered 4 images in the fine art category at the Altamont fair (the limit was 4.)  Two of those were cyanotype, and two were black and white images printed at my local Sam’s Club.  Much to my surprise, two of my images won first prize in their respective categories.  Now, honesty compels me to admit that of the three categories, the two I entered (black and white film and digital imaging) combined were only about half the size of the color category.  Bluntly speaking, I had less competition.  Still, one of the officials told me when I went to pick up the images that “the judge just loved your egg photograph.”  Cue the happy dance!

 

At the risk of getting all artsy and snobby, I have to say it won for a reason: there was a story behind my image, and I believe that it made it more interesting.  Someone once told me that every piece of art needs a story behind it, and he was right.  Granted, he made up his stories, but his premise was still true.  Every conceptual image, at least, needs to make you wonder, make you think.  It’s not enough for me to rely on the process being interesting – the image has to be good, interesting, evocative – the process is only the trappings.  Which is why my image won, instead of the salt print image of someone’s dog.  (At least I think it was a salt print, could have been a Van Dyke process.)

The story behind this image is highly personal, and I don’t think I’ve shared the details except to a few people.  It started with this piece that I did for my Verba series:

"Dolori" - Verba series, Coffee Toned Cyanotype, 15x15

The Verba series, not surprisingly, was based on writings I had done at key points in my life: usually low points.  The image doesn’t show the poem very well, so I’ll transcribe it here for convenience’s sake:

My body is a tomb / a grave of dead hopes.

I watched the beating heart of dreams / fade into nothing.

I have no tears left /my heart is weeping still.

How can I go on living, / knowing I have given birth to death?

I wrote this poem one night when I was still dealing with the emotional aftermath of literally watching my unborn child die.  One day the ultrasound showed a strongly beating heart, the next day, something happened. While an early miscarriage might be nature’s gentle way of dealing with  a baby that can’t survive, the emotional toll certainly isn’t gentle.

When we found out that Corbin was coming, I decided to document his birth in the same way that I documented my miscarriage.  From the very beginning of my creative process, I stuck with this one image.  It now hangs in his nursery.

As happy as I am to have Corbin, I still grieve over the child that didn’t live.  That bittersweet emotion was behind every creative decision in Nesting – from the set up to the lighting.  I’d like to think that some of that story shows in the image, but I’m sure most people look at it and say “oh, an egg in a nest, how cute.”

 

So that’s the story behind the image that won first in the Black and White division at the Altamont fair.  The Digital Imaging division winner’s story is simpler:  I challenged myself to create a series of things you wouldn’t expect to see in a photograph – and you wouldn’t recognize them either.

They’re forks – salad forks, actually!

 

 

Pregnancy update

Well, my official due date is this Saturday, May 21st.  I haven’t been able to post much for the last few weeks and I do apologize for that.  I haven’t been feeling that well lately so I probably won’t be posting much until after the kiddo is born – and he seems to be stubbornly determined to hang in there as long as possible. 

I promise I’ll get back to posting regularly as soon as possible.  To those of you who subscribe to my blog and check out my content regularly, thanks for hanging in there with me.  I feel like I’m making a lot of excuses here but honestly, being 9 months pregnant is a lot more work than it looks like! 

To all of you visitors, thanks for dropping by!  As always, if you have any questions about my cyanotype stuff, feel free to drop me an email at elizabeth.p.3@gmail.com – pregnant or not, I still check my email 🙂 

Hopefully the next time I post will include baby pics!

An Apology

I’m sorry that I haven’t blogged for a while guys – I’m not feeling very creative at the moment.  My grandfather is in the hospital right now and it doesn’t look like a happy ending for this story.  Hopefully I’ll be back on track soon, so bear with me.  Hope your week is going better than mine!

Update: My grandfather passed away this evening – his story has come to an end.