Susan C. Adamson and Julie Patterson
I got my first camera when I was in third grade—a Brownie Hawkeye flash model with a snazzy little camera case. The instruction manual provided six simple steps for taking successful pictures.
Hold the camera steady, supporting it underneath. Then, with the sun behind your back or over your shoulder, locate the subject in the finder. At the instant of exposure, hold your breath and press the shutter release with a gentle squeezing action (Brownie Hawkeye Instruction Manual).
The camera came with two rolls of film, each with16 frames. I eagerly used them up and sent the exposed film off for developing and printing. Maybe because I didn’t hold my breath or squeeze the shutter release quite gently enough—I don’t know—but when the prints came back, I had (according to the manual) “fumbles”: double-exposures, complete blurs, specks on the images, a few close-ups of my finger or the camera strap, and plenty of shots where the subject was cut-off. I did have pictures, but not one that was good.
Cameras now are nothing like my Brownie Hawkeye, but if you still point and shoot like I do, you have surely noticed that the beautiful sunset you see with your own eyes is nothing like the digital image you end up with. That’s because creating breathtaking photography is up to the photographers who are, in the words of Ansel Adams, blazing the poetry of the real (1930) – using shadow and light, focus, compositional elements, perspective, texture, and tone to illuminate what we see (and sometimes don’t see).
For the longest time, we have used a point and shoot mentality in writing, too. You remember... follow the directions for writing a paper, hold your breath when you turn it in, then get it back in a few days with your “fumbles” clearly marked in red pen. Think about it. How much better would your writing have been if you had known how to create the illusion of motion or sound, manipulate the volume or inflection in a reader’s voice, make the reader your accomplice, or persuade her to think like you? That is the work of writing after all—to hold its own in the absence of the author, blazing the real of time and space.
Knowing how to write well is not just the province of published authors anymore. It can’t be—too much is at stake. Workshop teachers take seriously this call to action, teaching the qualities of good writing every single day. In Blazing the Real, their students demonstrate that good writing comes from a deeper understanding of craft, of what writers know and do. These young writers understand that very specific, tangible details help them effectively express big, sometimes abstract concepts. They understand the power of creating intimacy with a reader by using second-person address. They understand that reflecting on topics immediately relevant to their own lives, stirs emotions that resonate broadly. And, they even understand how to manipulate the conventions of writing to provoke their audiences to respond in particular, intended ways.
Breathe in the beauty of Blazing the Real—the splendor of meticulously crafted photographs inspired by the writing in each of four chapters, the artistry of language both written and drawn that is influenced by the work of real writers. And know, we are a very long way from point and shoot.
-Susan C. Adamson
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