Tag Archives: photos and learning

A Rose From Any Other Angle

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Pink Roses in Our Flower Garden by Walt Holt, 2015

With so much to do and see in the summer, I decided to make the rest of the month about capturing the season in photos.  Regarding my own photographic expertise, I can evaluate photos but I have minimal talent when it comes to taking photos. Yes, I work with old photos for my books. These days, when researching away from home and with no time to waste, I take photos of material to read at a later time. Unfortunately, usually, the quality is barely good enough to read!  Also, sometimes I take quick snapshot of friends, family, places or event, but few would be good enough to publish.

My husband, Walt, is the photographer in the family. He has always taken photos but, once he retired, it became an more important hobby. In fact, he takes the time to read and reread his camera manuals.  With his artist’s eye, patience and willingness to experiment, he has become an excellent photographer.  Of course, I am biased, but it is true!

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Rose in Full Bloom by Walt Holt, 2015

In fact, making cards from some of his photos is a pleasant escape for me from my own research, writing and writing-related activities.  His photos inspire me. As a result, I decided to share some during the rest of the month.

For those of us with a passion for flower gardening, the hail season is always worrisome. Before they are all stripped by hail, wilted by heat, or give way to fall weather, our taking photos is a way of remembering and appreciating them.

What amazes me about good photographers—whether amateur of professional—is that they see what the rest of us something miss. They see more detail, more colour, more possibilities than most of us experience when looking at the same subject.

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Rosebud by Walt Holt, 2015

I am always encouraging Walt to take photos of our flowers. Clearly, when a rose or one very like it is photographed from different angles, at different times or in different light, the rose can be much more than a rose. It can be an ever-changing experience and “way of seeing.”

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Amazing Negatives

I was definitely busy this year with photo research for the expansion of my book, Settling In: First Homes of the Prairies. The new book includes early homes from BC to Manitoba, and it spans a time-frame that begins with early forts and concludes with wartime housing in Western Canada. So, given the expanded time-frame and content, I needed new photos.

During the process, my most exciting photo finds were two glass negatives. They belonged to my mother’s friend, Kathleen Kossowan, and they were from her family’s photo collection. Although I had long known about glass negatives, I had never actually seen them. So, I found it fascinating to view the black and grey images printed on the glass “plates,” which are about 5 by 7 inches in size. Similar plates are part of many museum collections, but to be personally entrusted with two of them was thrilling and helped me feel connected to our photographic past.

Collodion wet plate negatives were used from about the 1850s to 1880s, and since the ones I was offered were from the early 1900s, they had to be silver gelatine dry plate negatives. With the process invented in 1873, the negatives were widely used from about 1880 to 1920. In Alberta, museums and archives such as Glenbow in Calgary recognize the importance of photos to understanding and appreciating our history, and they have been supportive and helpful to me regarding my projects. Although glass negatives are part of their collections, having the negatives developed or scanned would be a big ticket item for their budgets, and cost concerned me, too.

As an individual writer with limited resources, although I wanted to use one or both images, I wasn’t sure if I could locate a local photographer or photography business able to develop them. Years ago, I had found an individual to develop black and white film negatives, but having the work done had been costly. This time, despite the availability of better technology, I assumed having the glass negatives developed might prove impossible or very costly.  So, as an experiment, I tired scanning the negative on my printer. The result was dismal, and the images were far too dark to see.

Next, I went to my favourite camera and photography store, Vistek, in Calgary.  The professionals there would have more knowledge and better access to whatever equipment might be needed. The individual with whom I had worked previously regarding special orders said, “Yes. We should be able to do the job.” Unfortunately, there was a problem with paper being stuck to one of the negatives, but that is another story. I had the two images scanned, and one will be on the cover of Settling In: Early Homes of Western Canada. The book should be in my hands in a week or two, and needless to say, “I can hardly wait!”

In the meantime, my sincere appreciation goes to Kathleen Kossowan and her family, the photo wizards at Vistek, and my editor at Detselig Enterprises, James Dangerous, who chose the image for the book cover. On behalf of myself and other photo buffs, many thanks!

Just Thinking: Words and Pictures

Last week I posed a number of questions. Have you considered your preferred learning style? What is it? What impact might that have on you, your knowledge or your work? Eventually, I will have a guest write about learning styles because the subject is interesting, and our learning style may affect what we choose to do or not do in writing and in life. Most certainly, learning style affects how we respond to school, courses or workshops.

For now, the question from last week remains, “How do you respond to photos accompanied by text, whether as captions or in running text?”and “How do you respond to photos without accompanying text?”

Acknowledging that some photos are truly art and not focused on sharing information, I posted photos without text. The implied question was “How important are visual literacy skills —as opposed to print literacy skills—for you?” Of course, it was all in fun, and of course, if we are fortunate, we are all able to learn from both visuals and print.

Having published photo histories and included many photos in my books and workshops, the questions and concepts are undoubtedly more important to me than to most people. Admittedly, some images do not need captions to be meaningful. Sometimes, captions clarify what may be important information within images. A caption may use the image as a beginning point to expand upon an idea. On still other occasions, the tension between the printed caption and the image can be meaningful.

So, what about the images that I posted? None were intended as art photos, which stand on their own artistic merits. I shot all of them at Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village in early summer, 2011. My camera was a Cannon PowerShot SD 500 Digital Elph, which would now be considered old. I am not the photographer in the family and know next to nothing about cameras. However, here are my additional comments, some of which reflect my writing process.

This photo benefits from explanation. Because it is coloured, clearly, it is not from the old days. Here a costumed interpreter stands in the enclosed porch of a small pioneer home. Items surrounding her suggest the lifestyle of many western Canadian settlers. Most interesting is the ladder leading to the attic hidden from view. Root vegetables and supplies that might be subject to freezing were often stored there. The concept was fuel efficient since heat from the cook stove, which also provided home heating, kept the attic warm. Also, if the family was older or too large, the attic could be used for sleeping.

A research image for me, the photo reveals a very effective method of  using sod for the roof. Notches were cut in the mud wall for each layer of sod. The method created partially overlapping layers, which would make the roof more stable and weatherproof.

The photo captures what the eye sees fairly well. From the small domes, the church appears to be an Eastern Orthodox Church but the photo reveals little information about the religion or community. However, the information that is readily available and might be added.

Again, this visual does a reasonable job of capturing the image of a prairie elevator with two railcars beside it. A Home Grain elevator, the structure is in good shape compared to the few left standing elsewhere around the country. Little additional information is apparent from the photo. However extensive related history is widely available. There seems to be too much foreground in the image, but for many rural prairie people (except the young), elevators are symbolic and emotional subjects.

This is another research photo. On the roof of the early shelter, a stove pipe is visible. The front mudded wall suggests a wood frame, but natural shadows create uncertainty.  Question: Since the tiny home is in a treed area, why would the settler not simply build a small log cabin? Did the individual or family arrive too late in the year, and winter was setting in? (In fact, going inside of the shelter, tells more of the story.)

So, these words and pictures reveal something of my own learning style and writing process with regard to nonfiction and public histories. Still, I’ve said nothing about how a poem might surface for me or how I respond to photography as art. Yet, sometimes just contemplating process is fun—at least for me.

Self Test: Photos With or Without Text

Photos are essential in photo essays and are great in collages. Yes, there is a difference between a photo essay and a collage, but both are interesting, whether presented as art, on a poster, in a book, scrapbook or magazine, or on the Net. Neither form needs text, and in both forms, story or an important progression of ideas might be evident. Certainly for me, with or without text, photos have unbelieveable potential in captivating us emotionally, intellectually and artistically.

 I’m a writer not an artist or photographer. Yet I find it interesting to think about whether photos, on their own, are as effective as those with photo captions.  Often enough, teachers assign photo essays and collages, and some assignments are to be completed with text, others without text.

I firmly believe visual literacy is essential in today’s world, and I often try to promote it when visiting classrooms. But also, I suggest that contemplating how such elements work in our own learning process is time well spent. Might there be a difference in terms of how artists, writers and readers respond to photos appearing with or without text? Personally, I suspect there is.

 So, I’ve included this self text for you. Oh, there is absolutely nothing scientific about it. Yet, I was surprised  when one of my very best friends—who for years was a special education teacher, an elementary teacher and an elementary principal—said that I might be a multimodal learner or close to it. But what in the world would that  mean for me?

Already, I realized that words and print were central to my learning style. Also, I knew that I loved visual works, whether fine art or photography. Too, for me, like many other writers, the senses of sight, smell and touch are important.

Do I learn effectively through oral or sound experiences? I like hearing interesting speakers, but listening may not be my best learning mode. Today, countless slide shows and videos present images  accompanied by music, with or without lyrics. I enjoy the images, hear the music but I have trouble picking up the exact words, perhaps because I am too distracted by the images and music to mentally process the lyrics.

So, think about it.  Do you most enjoy photographs when displayed for their visual and artistic merits only? Do you prefer the type of visual presentation that includes music and lyrics? Do you gravitate to photos accompanied by a context and caption?

 The attached images  aren’t intended as great photo art. Still, maybe great works would be so captivating we would find it more difficult to evaluate our responses. 

Next week, I’ll give you a context and captions for the images, but, think about your preferred learning style and responses. And remember, this is just for fun and has absolutely no scientific basis!