To Find Inspiration All You Have To Do Is Look!
by Paul Burega
The Slow Stitching Movement brings to mind my progress in becoming a photographer. Back in the old days, when you actually had to use film in your camera, you could take 24 or 36 photos on a roll of 35mm film, deliver it to your photo developer – local drug store – and see the photos you took in a few days, if you were lucky. Taking a photo took time, and it cost money – you didn’t see the results until days, weeks, or sometimes even longer. The only instant gratification that ‘developed’ in photography was with the roll out of Polaroids. Then, you could take a picture, and in a minute or two, see the results. While many people thought of Polaroids as an inexpensive way for consumers to take snapshots, Polaroids were also used by professionals – the black and white Polaroid film gave photographers an option to create a negative for later use to make enlargements. Polaroid even made 10 cameras which took 20” x 24” color Polaroids, which were used by fine art photographers.
In those days, if you wanted to take a lot of photos, you could buy a 100 foot can of 35mm film, and wind it on spools yourself, in the dark, of course. So taking a lot of photos became more of an option, but it still took time before you saw the results of your photographic work. And with each photo came a cost. Yes, it cost you $$$ to take a photo, so you really thought about every photo that you were taking.
Today, in the digital age, you can shoot 100′s of photos without giving it much thought, look at them immediately, and take 100 more, none of which may be very good. Point. Shoot. Fast. Easy. Finished.
A very slow way of taking photos is to use a large format camera, a camera that is so large it does not fit in your hand, you must use a heavy tripod to support the large camera. A large format camera, is one in which the film comes in sheets, so you can take only 1 photo. You look at the image upside down on a glass plate, with a black fabric hood over you and the camera so you can see – perhaps you have seen these in old movies. I got a camera that took film that was 4″ x 5″, but cameras also came in 5″ x 7″, 8″ x 10″, 11″ x 14″ and larger. The larger the piece of film, the better quality the image would be, and the more expensive each image was. Also, it takes a lot more light to expose a bigger piece of film, and the exposures can be much longer – using a large format to take architecture photos, you can take a several hour picture, which means no people appear in the photo, they don’t stand still long enough to form an image on the film. Ansel Adams took large format 8×10 or larger images – on the order of a billion pixels in today’s camera technology.
At one point, I began attending night school to learn more about photography. What I found was that all of the great photographers used either medium format or large format cameras. A medium format camera, such as a Hasselblad, took film that was larger, and you got 12 photos to an expensive roll of film. Given the cost, you didn’t just snap photos, you took your time. Because the camera was totally manual, you needed to purchase a light meter. There were no automatic zoom lenses, and each lens cost several thousand dollars. You couldn’t afford to have multiple lenses unless you were a working professional. But a Hasselblad was good enough, and reliable enough, to go on a space mission to take photos from space. And a Hasselblad took square photos, not rectangular like 35mm, so you had to take the time to frame your mind around taking a square photo. You could always ignore part of the square, just like you could cut a square piece of fabric to become a rectangle.
“We Look But We Don’t See”
Taking pictures with a Hasselblad forces one to slow down. Because the pictures are more expensive, and you only get 12 photos to a roll of film, each picture becomes more valuable when it is only one of twelve. As a photographer, you think twice before taking a photograph, and you visualize what the end result will be by looking in the view finder, step forward, step backward, or move the camera, and verify if this is really an image you want to capture. It is the process of mentally visualizing what the image is, thinking about that image, and answering the question “Does this image convey a thought or feeling that I want to capture?” It really causes you to develop your sense of vision because “we look but we don’t see” and you need to slow down to see.
Have you ever considered stopping to really look at something that caught your eye on your way to work? In Boston, for instance, we get some harsh, cold winters, which means that some mornings there is frost on the windows. But if you really look, you can see frost on the roof of the cars, too. There are patterns in the frost. Have you ever stopped to examine the patterns in the icy images ? They can be quite beautiful. For example, here’s a inspiration-based photo of frost on the roof of a car. Take a look at http://dying2quilt.blogspot.com/2014/01/quilting-motifs-inspiration-from-winter.html.
So you can call it the ‘slow photography’ movement. You really needed to imagine the image you wanted to take before you set up the tripod, focused, got out a film holder, and took 1 picture, which would cost quite a bit to develop. And it might be weeks before you saw whether your image capture was what you had imagined.
“Slow Down To Appreciate The Details,
Refine Your Vision,
And Hone Your Skills”
After spending years doing slow photography, 15 years later, I take snap shots with my cell phone camera, and people are amazed at my photos. It was years of ‘slow photography’, figuring out exactly what was important to the image, and practicing, that makes it able for me know to snap great shots with a cell phone. For example, many people don’t stop to notice a street musician, but don’t dismiss anything that can be a stimulation for your senses: audio, visual.
Or a window that you stroll by . . .have you even considered looking to see if there is something that might inspire you?
You don’t need all the latest gadgets and expensive tools (in photography or in stitching) you need a clearly refined vision and well developed skills to know what you are doing – all things which the slow movement has you earn – not learn, earn, through time and sweat equity.
A friend who is a painter – both fine art and commercial – told me that the best advice he got about painting was from his Italian father, “First be able to do it perfectly, then learn how to do it quickly”. My friend could paint a 1″ strip along a room without needing masking tape, he spent many years practicing slow painting, but in the end he had the skills and confidence that he could do fine work quickly.
I see the same with slow stitching – slowing down to appreciate the details, refine your vision, and hone your skills. At first, the going is very slow, and you wonder if you will ever make something, but as you earn your skills and technique and vision, your progress will grow by leaps and bounds. I started making English Paper Pieced hexagons.
I began making 2” hexagons out of charm squares, and now I’m making 1/2” and 3/8” hexagons out of jelly rolls and fabric scraps. I’ve kept some small cuttings to make 1/4” and 3/16” hexagons – my stretch goal.
And you don’t need to make the same old hexagon quilts that people have made for 200 years. I’m looking at making a landscape quilt out of hexagons. A few background fabrics for grass and sky, and hexagons clusters – pink flamingos and perhaps fish.
Slowing down has you going from “Ready, Fire”, to “Ready, Aim, Fire” to “Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire”. You build your skills over time, and then use those developed skills to create a work that is the culmination of your vision, truly unique based on your involvement in life, for each and every moment you spend living contributes to each and every creative endeavor you engage in.
About Paul Burega
Paul is a software engineer by day, but a creative creature by night – gardening, photography, embroidery, sewing and a lifelong learner who went from saying ‘hand’ is a four letter word to making English Paper Pieced hexagons whenever there was a few minutes – doctor’s office, airport lounge, commuting, even during surgery.
I blog about my quilting at http://dying2quilt.blogspot.com/
My daughter blogs about jazz and I provide the photography at: http://kindofpinkandpurple.blogspot.com/
Have you checked out The Slow Stitching Movement’s PODCAST page. Two new podcasts were added this week.
Meet author, teacher, and embroiderer, Ruth Chandler.
Meet author, teacher, long-arm quilter, Karen Gibbs.
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