Learning How to Learn

I hope to inspire you and prove that you can do and learn whatever you would like.

We seem to have an illusion that everything requires lots of money and time to get started.  If you want to learn guitar, you are put off by the exuberant prices of the instruments, and extra equipment you think you need, and the high cost of lessons.  When I was considering learning darkroom photography, I was faced with the prospect of learning the chemistry and concepts that I had never come across.  I remember reading articles about darkroom that were full of words like “stops” and “fixer” and “emulsion” and thinking “how will I ever learn ANYTHING if I can’t even understand the language being used???”

How did I overcome the problems that faced me when I was trying to learn darkroom photography? I created a well defined goal. 

Day 1-2     I knew I wanted to do film.  My dad had an old film camera that no one was using, and I’ve always loved the way film grain makes a photo look.  I’m also a huge DIY fan, and I knew I wanted to eliminate anyone else touching my art.  The goal was:  I want to be able to take, develop, and print my own pictures from start to finish with the least outsourcing possible.  From there, I read everything I could on each step of the process.  Having that well defined goal illuminated those steps. 

Taking Pictures.

Developing Film.

Printing/enlarging photographs.

Day 3-10 After I had figured out WHAT I wanted to learn, I needed to invest in my own learning, so I bought a camera and an enlarger and paper and film and all of the equipment necessary.  I purchased everything on craigslist, or borrowed it from family and friends, keeping the cost to an absolute minimum.  Even if I didn’t have EVERYTHING in perfect working order, it didn’t matter.  BECAUSE I had invested in my OWN LEARNING and not hesitated once I had a defined goal, I couldn’t turn back!  I improvised a missing foot on my enlarging easel.  I used the wrong size film tray, and used paper fixer for both Film and Paper, etc.

This is key.  Investing in your own learning.  We are wired not to invest in something unless we know we will succeed.  If you TAKE that initial risk, you are much more likely to follow through to the end.

Nike’s motto of “just do it” rings very true to me.  If you just do something without thinking of whether or not you will succeed, you are bound to learn.  If you hesitate at the beginning of an endeavor, you will hesitate at each step on the journey.  Your hesitation can happen before you define your goal, but once you have positively defined your goal, simply do the next thing.

Day 11-28 After I had gotten all my equipment, I took two or three rolls worth of pictures.  I knew I wasn’t ready to begin developing yet, as I was still learning how the chemicals worked, and how to block light out of my tiny apartment bathroom.  I had to prove that I was learning at least a little, right?  If I was to continue down this path I needed to know that I wasn’t just taking blank pictures.  I sent off a couple of the rolls I had exposed to a company in California to develop, and print, and send back to me!

By doing this I AFFIRMED my learning.  I accomplished part of my goal, and outsourced for the rest, to prove to myself that I had progressed in the right direction if only a little.  This gave me the courage and inspiration to continue my journey.  By affirming this to myself, and rewarding myself for investing in my own learning, I re-lit the fire that had sparked my initial interest.  Half of the pictures were terrible, but they were better than not taking any!

After that, it was just a matter of following through with researching and executing the necessary steps to achieve the other two steps.  Once I had gotten the basic process down, I could begin really diving deeper into each aspect of darkroom photography without any fear of failure or consequence.  I feel fully equipped and confidant that I can create my own pictures from start to finish!  All in less than a month!

The key to being able to do anything you want, is to set a goal, invest in your own learning, and affirming your progress.  Map out the things you need to ensure that you are learning the subject, not just repeating processes.  Following orders isn’t fun, and neither is following step by step instructions.  Learning dynamically like this leads to better retention and builds confidence.  Go learn something new!

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