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  • Writer's pictureVanessa

An Education

The Blog Post in Which I Become Overwhelmed by the Internet and Subsequently Applaud Public Libraries

In last week’s post, I shared what sparked my journey into photography five years ago: a challenge to spend more time outdoors.

Bringing my camera along on nature walks was fun, but I needed help to learn what to do with it.

Teach myself about photography? No problem! It’s the 21st century - I have access to the vast, modern and handy interweb! I hopped online... and was promptly and thoroughly overwhelmed by the number of courses, YouTube channels, and ads for camera gear competing for my attention with their promises of better image-making. I didn’t even know where to start.

Discouraged, I sulked for a bit.

'Ebb and Flow,' Lake Erie, 2018

Then I quit sulking and went to the library.

I love the library. It won’t be the only time you’ll hear this from me. The public library serves so many functions (yes, even today, in the age of “just Google it”), the simplest of which is to house an easily-navigable, relevant collection of free resources accessible to everyone.

I fully accept that this seems archaic, but I wanted a book in my hands. I wanted to flip pages, use bookmarks, make notes (with a my notebook... *not* in the library books!). I wanted to read and re-read, study and re-study. I wanted my eyeballs to thank me for not exposing them to more blue light than necessary. I’d need them to function well, after all, if I wanted to make pictures. Somehow, the task of educating myself seemed less intimidating if I tackled it one tangible resource at a time.

'Morning Assembly,' 2019

Over the next couple of years, I worked my way through the available digital photography how-to books at my local public library (yay, Idea Exchange!). I coupled my study with nearly-daily hands-on practice with my camera and post-processing software. I caught on to the basics of exposure, aperture, depth-of-field, and so on. I was introduced to the history and analyses of the medium, including the work of well-known photographers of all genres, past and present. Once I’d gotten my head around the basics, I returned to the incredible and mind-boggling internet to narrow down my search for the subjects and teachers I wanted to explore in more depth. I saved my money to purchase only the books that I found most helpful (perk: the library staff don’t care if I make notes in those).

Photography, I quickly discovered, has an incredible number of applications, depending on one’s interests and skills. If I were a people-person, I might be drawn to portraiture or family photography. There are commercial food photographers, documentary photographers, conceptual photographers. There are those who want to make bold societal statements with their work, and those who want to make an image that pleases their own soul. There are photographers who traverse and combine these elements. I admired all kinds of photographs, but the ones I most loved to make at the time stemmed from the act of observing my natural surroundings.

I started to realize that the teachings most resonant with me had less to do with the technical aspects of photography, and more to do with how, and why, a photographer communicates their vision.

'Beginner's Mind', Riverside Park (Cambridge), 2017

I’ve much to learn, and I’m planning on holding a beginner’s mindset until I’ve no mind left. I do know this: I’m gaining a sense of what makes a strong photograph, and of how my style is developing. And I’m very glad I didn’t wait until I thought my images were ‘good enough’ - which would have been ‘never’ - to share them with others. With any luck, I’ll have some years left to explore how my skills and vision will evolve.

In future blog posts, I’ll share some of my favourite photography resources and role models. In many cases, I think the role models - both local and more widely known - offer sage advice for the pursuit of any creative endeavour.

I’ll be pleased if I can offer any guidance to fellow intimidated, internet-ambivalent introverts out there who are looking for a place to start down their own photographic path.

For this week, though, my blog-work is done. The world wide web and I need to take a little break. My library books are waiting.

Success! I'll email you when I publish my next post.

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