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Chester County Press

Seniors and cameras: A time for new learning

01/05/2021 11:53AM ● By Steven Hoffman
Shortly after I founded the photo class at the Kennett Area Senior Center, I realized that holding up recent images on the viewfinders of our phones and cameras and then bidding them adieu didn’t bring much satisfaction.
Seniors—folks in their 60s, 70s and beyond—grew up with the tactile satisfaction of picking up prints at the drug store, shuffling through the pictures, showing them to others and keeping them safe somewhere in the house. It’s different these days, but those old memories still hang around for us.
That prompted me to shift in the direction of the class from schooling the members in Photoshop to three more satisfying projects:
~   We had shows
~   We created books
~   We shared our passion with others
Having a show is no easy project. It involves printing the pictures, framing them, and hanging them.
Finding a place to put up about 25 pictures is not an easy task, either, but we were lucky.
There was a bare-walled hall in the senior center just begging for decoration, and the lanai next to the vendor market at the Market at Liberty Place in Kennett Square often looked stark naked as the diners enjoyed their meals next to it.
Fortunately, we were given permission to use both, but there were problems to solve at both places.
At the senior center, the crown molding was smooth-topped, so there was no way to attach the pictures.
For help, we asked center member Joe Kozlowski, who is known far and wide for his woodworking skills. He agreed to help and applied small nails to the top of the boards that we were able to hook onto.
Early on, we used fishing line applied to the back of the pictures to hang them from the molding at the senior center and at Liberty Place. It was a tedious and frustrating project because it got tangled and we had to climb all over each other, tying and retying knots to create the right balance and make the show aesthetically pleasing.
Fortunately, a couple years in, we were lucky to have lifelong photographer Karl Leck join the group. He had produced many shows and connected us with rods with sliders that were much easier to use. We bought some.
He also did us the courtesy of removing the crown molding from the hall, taking it home and slicing ridges in it to hook in the rods.
We proceeded. The members got their favorite pictures printed (or I printed them) and got them ready for matting and framing.
Now there are perfectionists who believe a photo show must contain prints that are surrounded by expensive, matching, black frames under glass. For me, that is irrelevant. I told my class to find old frames in the attic, buy an inexpensive one at Walmart or find an object that looks like a frame and stick their picture on it.
In my mind, a frame at its best should reflect the content it is surrounding – like a family. Paint it up if you want.
After years, that led to our frame project. This is how it worked: We asked Joe Kozlowski to make the prototype of a frame that would be recessed on the inside for the picture, but would have a wide ridge about the outside for us to glue on objects that were reminiscent of the picture itself. Then he made us a whole bunch.
That project was a glorious success.
Mary did a picture of her dog with his prize ribbons and collars surrounding. Bob had a picture of his trip to the New England shore surrounded by little doodads of the seashore. Arlene had a picture of her quilting hobby with sewing paraphernalia around the outside – you know, like a pin cushion. Karl centered a portrait from a Kodak ad surrounded by photography tokens, slides and old film. I did a picture of a parade in Kennett Square with cutouts of parade participants, flags and balloons – the Mummers. Carmela centered a shot of a gem surrounded by jewelry she had made.
They are hanging in our Liberty Place show at this time.
Next, we made a book every two years.
This was fairly easy thanks to the technology and widespread opportunities for personal book-making these days.
At first, I just gathered up their pictures, laid them on pages virtually and sent them off to Shutterfly. As time went by, the books got more sophisticated, with each member having a few pages with his or her portrait plus a statement of their interest in photography.
Sometimes the members, with the knowledge that this book-making-from-photos is a possibility, ask for my help in putting together their own book for keeping or sending as gifts to their relatives.
Currently, we have a book project underway that was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the temporary closing of the senior center. The book is called, “The Fix,” and its pages tell the stories of problems we face in making good pictures, and how we have sought to correct them.
The third goal I have had with this group is to share our love of photography with the folks at the center.
Inspired by singer-songwriter Barry Manilow’s advice to “Bring your work to life,” we occasionally reach out to the membership.
In my mind, the most interesting thing we did was create a PowerPoint tutorial and present it at a lunchtime program.
I asked each member of my group what advice they would like to tell they friends, and they came up with enriching topics:
“Do you need a big camera?”
“How do you keep your camera from shaking?”
“How does cropping emphasize the interesting aspects of the picture?”
“How do you store all those pictures you have at home?”
They shared their answers at the program.
Another thing we did was have a member show. The only rule was that we in the class were not allowed in.
I found that people modestly showed me things they had taken – on their phones or cameras. They wondered if the shots were worth sharing.
I told them “indeed yes.”
I printed them, framed them and hung them.
It was a very popular event at the center.
Finally, we had a member-portrait day.
We knew that just before Christmas people wanted to send out pictures with their cards, so we sat them down, took their pictures individually and sold them back to the subjects at a buck apiece.
Through the years, the center members wait for that day and even decide ahead of time what they will wear and how they will pose.
We miss our weekly class meetings, but I know everyone is still taking pictures.
A few of us got together to hang the show at Liberty Place in November, but thanks to the pandemic, it wasn’t the same with some class members missing, a small audience and no hugs.
I don’t know when we will be able to get together, but as soon as they lift the curfew, we’ll be in there for another book, another show, and another tutorial.
Stay tuned.
We are grateful to Larry and Geoff Bosley for the use of their wall in the lanai at Liberty Place. Our 2020 show was due to come down on January 15, but they gave us permission to leave it up until mid-March.
Stop by.