Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On Learning Limitations of Self

History (M.A. Reilly, 2011)
So today I was interviewed for a film that is being made about a learning initiative at the high school in the district where I work. As a photographer I was fascinated by the set up Ben and Oscar (the film makers) brought in order to tape the session. I asked a few questions about the technical end of filming and said that I knew that as a photographer, moving image, has become more and more a reality of the work. I kidded them that I really needed to learn how to shoot film and hoped when I got around to it, I could call on them for pointers.

I didn't think much more about this conversation until I was on my way home.  Commuting seems to be a good time for thinking. It occurred to me that shooting a film is risky for me and I recognized the "excuse making" I have offered instead of getting on with the new learning.  I write a lot about uncertainty, risk taking and so it smarts a bit when I have the opportunity to see myself, as tentative and resistant.

When I write about change I rarely (if ever) discuss the associated loss that accompanies change.  Years in analysis certainly showed this to be the case, and had me asking, What occupies the space between knowing x well and doing something related that is new?  I realized as I thought about learning how to film that it wasn't the new learning that was problematic, but more so all of the foibles and errors I now make as a photographer that would come into focus.  Learning something new might reveal the limitations I have as a photographer.

To learn something related to what I love to do now, I would need to reveal the imperfections and challenges I mask to some degree with photographic technique. For example, in many of my images the horizon line can be off, not parallel and I have learned how to fix this so as to not have it mar the composition. Another issue is sight. I wear reading glasses but don't shoot with them and often I will soft focus an image to compensate.  This soft focusing has become a signature of my work.  But how do you straighten a horizon line in a moving image?  How does soft focus work in film?

Learning something new will likely reveal the unresolved problems I have with the art making I love to do.

I wondered how parallel the story I am telling might be for educators who are moving from work they now do (with all the imperfections mostly hidden or covered by technique) to new ways of working which may reveal those imperfections, those hesitancies?  I thought about how I still retain agency in my story as no one is forcing me to make films.  It will be a choice.  What happens when educators are forced to learn something? When some other, more powerful, determines what the learning will be?

Some big questions for me to ponder. Wonder what you think about it, as well.

Want (M.A. Reilly, 2010)


  1. Thanks for this post. I think you are also highlighting the fear students can feel when they learn new things, especially for a grade. "Can I keep it up? Can I keep my grade high? Will this be too hard for me? Maybe I shouldn't take the hard class and bring down my GPA." I wonder how we can help our students have this same self-awareness - to recognize hesitancy and suss out its root.

  2. I would imagine being honest and sharing our own stories might be a start, followed by really really listening to what is said, as well as not said.