School Lunches and Selecting a Subject

September 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Anne Lamott’s chapter on school lunches goes hand-in-hand with the last chapter on first assignments.  She encourages her students if they’re “mewling and puking” over trouble with their writing to write about school lunches.  Why would she choose school lunches?  I think this particular topic holds a special place in many of our hearts.  Lunch time was an integral part of school, and often you were defined by what you did or did not have.  It’s also something we all know and like talking about, making he writing process easier while we rely on paragraphs of straight description.  Hurns and Jay refer to the same technique when they talk about photographing what you know.  If you are not familiar with a particular subject, Hurn and Jay encourage a suggest a substantial amount of research to make up for what you lack.  The method Lamott describes in School Lunches is also just a way for the writer, or photographer, to begin working.  It’s a little warm-up exercise that is required before beginning that opus we all have set our sights on.  In a way, the one-day project is like the school lunches writing assignment.  It’s a warm-up, a practice shoot for our 30-day project at the end of the semester.

The Hurn and Jay reading confirmed what I already believed about personal vision.  Rather than something you decide upon and consciously choose or create, personal style or vision is a byproduct of the photographer’s work on something they are passionate about.  I also agree with what they said about the reasons why students choose photography in the first place.  It may appear glamorous, they may be attracted to the work of past masters, or the equipment, or the idea of travelling etc.  I’m not going to lie.  Several of these descriptions attracted me to photography.  But photography is the the end, it is the means to whatever we wish to communicate.  I realized a couple weeks ago, when asked why I wanted to be a photographer, that my interest in photography and writing stems from the need to communicate my thoughts and feelings in a way I am unable to accomplish when speaking.  This actually works great for me in another regard as well, because I have always been interested and curious about so many other subjects (one reason why it took me so long to pick a major).

There’s so much in the Hurn and Jay reading that resonated with me, but a few things in particular included their emphasis on research and preparation and planning.  I love to plan and make lists.  It’s my type A side’s favorite pastime.  Without research before a project how can we photograph a subject to the best of our abilities?  If it were an event, I would be able to photograph it, but it would lack depth and fall short of communicating an understanding and empathy for the subject’s situation.  And this is what separates really good photo stories from the really bad ones.

Finally, one portion of the reading I continued mulling over long after finishing was the anecdote of the violinist who incorporated his music in every part of his daily life.  While the television interviewer saw this as a very narrow and unvaried lifestyle, the musician instead felt freed by his ability to incorporate his passion in every aspect of his life, allowing them to feed and develop each other.  I have seen this lifestyle in several of my peers who go on to do amazing work, but it’s something I have not yet achieved.  Instead, I’m ashamed to say, photography is only a part of my life, it is not my life as I wish it were.  This is no one’s fault but mine, and I think one fear I have of just snapping away throughout the day is ending up with an inordinate number of photos of my cat. Then I would be known as the crazy cat lady who was never hired because all she ever photographed was her cat.  Okay maybe it wouldn’t be that extreme, but really, I just need to make the effort, or, as Lamott would do, pick up a yellow legal pad and in a very zen-like way pretend to scribble notes.


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