Seniors and cameras: Time for New Learning12/27/2020 08:50PM ● By Steven Hoffman
For seniors like me, the photography we grew up with changed dramatically about 20 years ago with the arrival of digital cameras.
Looking back to earlier times, it was like this: we bought a roll of film, placed it in our camera, hooked the tag to the advancer, closed the case and shot 12, maybe 24 or more, scenes.
We took the spent film roll to the drug store, and in a few days returned to pay for the prints we had taken and a handful of dark negatives.
We hoped at the time they would be good, because when we shot scenes, we had no way to check. If they were bad, it was money lost.
Fast forward to the 21st century: We can see immediately what we shot, the images are free, and we can even take pictures with the new toys—our phones.
Still, for folks in their sixties and seventies, most of us still have remnants of those old habits hanging around and weighing heavily on our minds: Film, disposable flash bulbs and picking up prints at the drugstore.
Perhaps that is why, about 15 years ago, Andrea Durynski, who was then the Kennett Area Senior Center program coordinator, asked me to establish a photo club to help the members to adopt new skills. She tapped me not only because I had aged with the rest of her flock, but because, in my capacity as a newspaper editor, I had been forced to keep up with the changes in photography.
My attitude helped as well. From my standpoint, I see most humans – no matter what their tools, age, or learning -- as natural photojournalists whether they are professional or not. The only qualification for the class I established was that they have a camera (or phone with camera capabilities), however humble. There was no need for a big SLR camera that cost thousands of dollars.
With that invitation at the center, about seven or eight people joined, and thus began this more-than-decade-long adventure with cameras, pictures and shows.
Initially, I thought my task was to teach the members – pedantically – how to frame a shot, upload it to the computer and then adjust it with Photoshop.
I was wrong, because initially I failed to listen to their wants and needs: to capture a lovely sunset; to record a family gathering; and to memorialize the great features of last summer’s vacation. These seniors were happy that their cell phones could take pictures, and they had little interest in the fine points of elite photo correction programs, settings and expensive accoutrements.
I came to realize that my task for them essentially involved three things:
~ They needed to get the feel of the new cameras and know how to use them as their personal tools;
~ They had to open their minds to the vast array of subjects that would be fun to photograph;
~ They needed to expand their self-confidence and realize that photography is not an elite, expensive, or exclusive dalliance. The fact is, the minute they click on a scene, they are real photographers.
First of all, the tool: The cameras of today are not the cameras of yesteryear. There are buttons and accessories that bear little, if any, resemblance to the old days, and most of the point-and-shoot cameras are not much bigger than a can of sardines. Some are so amazing, however, that you can send an image to another person’s phone as soon as you shoot the picture.
We had to sit around and play with their cameras and the buttons. Everyone needed to see what happens, for instance, when they tap a button once, then again a couple times. They needed to see where you grip that little slider helps you zoom in or out.
Unlike the cameras of the old days, the new cameras give no tactile feedback to the shooter about what is going on, so it must be learned.
“How do I turn the flash off and on? Which button activates the video? Can I keep it in a hot car over vacation?”
For example, one member, Carmela Contro, had a camera that apparently had a mind of its own and continued to switch from single photo to video without being prompted. She kept bringing in what she hoped were pictures, but they turned out to be movies. We called it “The Devil Camera” and finally told her to get rid of it.
Another issue was batteries. All of us at one time or another failed to keep the batteries charged and we show up missing shots the next day. The new habit they needed was setting those batteries in a charging block each night so they were ready for what would come tomorrow.
There was also the issue of all those little pieces of hardware. With the purchase of a new camera came little accessories (or needs for them), like flash drives, memory cards, tiny batteries and card readers. It was a daunting challenge to remember all those things, so we sat around, talked about them, had them in our hands and played with them over and over again until they were our friends.
My second challenge was opening our photographers to the multitude of subjects they could shoot and the angles they could shoot from – expanding their minds.
Everyone likes to shoot a beautiful sunset and a rainbow, but in reality, just about everything is fair game.
Arlene Kolowski was intent on shooting an artsy picture of a covered bridge from a hundred feet away. Growing weary of that, she returned to her car and, as they drove through, took one more shot from the inside with her phone camera.
It was exquisite.
Contro, a passionate cook, happened to take a shot of her Thanksgiving turkey and warming Italian bread loaf in the oven. The picture was so compelling you could almost smell the dinner.
Bob Cossaboon happened to have his camera with him as he was walking up the steps at home. His dog was reclined at the top of the stairway. He took a shot when he was about four steps down from the dog. In effect he created a shot that captured the dog’s stare head-on because the camera and the dog’s eyes were on the same level.
Mary Webb had just taken her Thanksgiving turkey out of the oven and was letting it rest on the counter. There on the floor, looking up and salivating was her dog, Bobby. Quickly she grabbed her camera and caught the scene. It turned out to be a compelling shot of canine appetite.
You never know what’s going to turn out to be fantastic.
In that regard, we had to keep pursuing activities that offered more possibilities for fun shooting:
Among other things:
We went to Longwood Gardens for flowers in the spring. We went to the park for autumn leaves in the fall. We photographed portraits of all the members of the senior center at Christmastime. We took Christmassy pictures and turned them into cards and ornaments, among other things.
My third task was to convince members of the class what I believe about anyone taking pictures: They are, indeed, photojournalists, from the ancient record-keeping petroglyphs of to the hot shot media shooters of the networks. The mere fact that they hold up their tool to a scene, push a button and want to share the image with others qualifies them for the title.
I was not surprised that when they came to the club with inexpensive point-and-shoots, they were in awe of professionals who had thousands of dollars in heavy camera gear. I told them they could aspire to that and the investments if they really wanted to, but it was not necessary.
Even as the ancients carved their historical impressions on rocks for future generations to partake, my class members were similarly using their tools to record events for those who come after, or even to remind themselves of the beauty and excitement they were experiencing now.
For six years now, we have displayed the best of what we have on the wall at The Market at Liberty Place in Kennett Square, courtesy of owners Larry and Geoff Bosley. Each year, even in this horrific year of 2020, as we behold our work, we exhale a breath of satisfaction.
We invite you to take a look.
Coming in next week’s Chester County Press: Part II: Displaying the work