On Process and Product



The little afghan in the photograph I crocheted in 1972.  I was part of a group of women who were all crocheting at the time.  It is small, delicate and I love the way the colors played together.  A baby blanket for any gender.  The funny thing about this is I think it is the ONLY thing I have ever crocheted (at least to completion).  I liked making this because the motifs were easy and mindless, that’s everything I love about some crafts.  I love the feel of fiber in my hands, being drawn through my fingers.  Whenever I begin a knitting project now the one thing that makes a difference in how often I pick it up is the texture of the fiber.  A friend(?) once told me I was like Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men because I loved the feel of soft things, of fur and fiber (and I played with my hair obsessively at the time).  To this day I think about that remark and feel like I may have a better understanding of Lennie’s phyche than many people – not necessarily a good thing.

I do a lot of things with my hands.  It’s my way of thinking, relaxing, calming down when I’m stressed, working through problems.  I love making beautiful things. My projects have become much more complicated as I age.  I’m not one of those people that could knit the same sweater more than once.  The little crocheted afghan will never be replicated, I made it, it’s done, it’s over.  I’d have to say that probably 70% of the projects I finish I give away.  They are often made with someone in mind and if said project lives up to my perfectionist standards off it goes.   That crocheted blanket was made with someone in mind but the window was missed in giving it to him.  It’s amazing to me that I still had it since I’d moved so many times from 1972 on.  Different lives, different places, different people, just the flow of time.

I recently reconnected with the intended recipient of that blanket and gave it to him.  I thought that since I had been carrying it around with me so many years I would miss it when it was gone.  You know, it was a relief when it left my hands into his.  I felt a little foolish in a small way giving a 41 year old man something I’d made before he was born but it also felt like it had made its way home.

Robyn Spady in this months Handwoven magazine writes that “we make our own legacies when we pass along the items we create.”  I really think that’s true.  I have a legacy of things created by my mother, grandmother and great grandmothers.  They all mean something to me when I look closely at them and imagine their hands working the stitches.  I have their creations and know that for them it really was the process as well.  In the back of my mind I hope the recipients of my work will someday treasure them as much as I have the things left to me.  Maybe it will inspire them to create something of their own and pass it on.


Kodachrome gradient


I was watching a news show this morning and as they faded to advertising they were playing Kodachrome in the background.  We talk about the soundtrack of our lives and this is one of those songs.  It was released in 1973 by Paul Simon.  Three years later I went to photography school, not because of the song. At the time we played that song to death.

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s
A sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to a photograph
So mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away”

This started me thinking (another rabbit hole) about my history with film.  I think Ektachrome was the first color film I exposed in school, probably after months of working with b&w.  The line went if you could shoot chrome you could shoot anything.  You had to pay attention to exposure.  Not long out of school I worked at a small lab processing Ektachrome and color negative films as well as black and white.  I have to say that even though I was the only lab tech there and after running hundreds of rolls of film and printing thousands of b&w prints I never lost my love of the darkroom.  It was quiet and meditative.  For me there was always magic in a darkroom – even knowing how it all worked, it was still magic.

It’s been many, many years since I’ve been in a darkroom.  I often lament the fact that my daughters will never experience processing their own film and making their own prints.  They are the digital generation.  I must admit if I am honest with myself that so much of the frustration of being a photographer was relieved by the digital age.  How many times did I return prints to a lab to be reprinted because they were too magenta or cropped improperly?  Now you have complete control over every image.  If you have something printed and it doesn’t look the way you expected it to then you have no one to blame but yourself.  How many proof albums did I put together and then take apart for brides to create their wedding albums?  Does anyone even have a wedding album anymore?  Now they have it playing with the dissolve and music as their screen saver on their computer.  That’s not a bad thing.  It used to take anywhere from 6 months to a year to get a couple their finished album, hours of work on the part of the photographer.

Maybe that’s what I’m really lamenting, the loss of the long process from beginning to end.  The light meter, the framing, the deliberate shot.  Not knowing what you have on that roll of color film until a week or more after it was exposed.  Now that I think of it it’s a wonder that half of the photographers I know didn’t die an early death due to the stress in their lives.  Shooting 300 shots at a wedding with equipment malfunctions requiring some pretty creative exposures. Using your flash manually (can you even do that anymore?) knowing the distance by eye and setting your exposure instantly. Then waiting to see if you get that phone call from the lab saying “Uhm, you have 3 rolls (90 shots for me) underexposed and not printable.”  That’ll wreck your day, week, month.  I had the good fortune to have what few horror stories I can tell happen on someone else’s dime.  It was his crappy equipment and he had to clean up the mess.  You had such an intimate knowledge of your equipment and your film, you knew what you could do with it and when you were pushing the envelope.

Today my go to camera is often my phone.  I am still a deliberate photographer.  I compose every shot.  I don’t load hundreds of photographs onto my computer with edit in mind.  I don’t think you should have to do that.  I think you should see that shot in your mind and strive for it.  Of course there is still the edit of that one shot but now I have complete control and that too happens in an instant.  I will never be making little cardboard vignettes or tools with wire to print that special print again.  Although I have to say when it took me hours to make that perfect b&w print it meant so much more to me.