When I was small, I used to watch my grandmother make apple pies. She made the best apple pies in the world. Yes, I know others have made that claim, but it’s simply not true. My grandmother made the best!
She never measured anything, but the pies were always perfect, and they always tasted the same.
Once I asked her why she didn’t measure things out. After pretending to be offended she pointed out that once she had measured everything, every time, but that had been nearly sixty years before and now she didn’t need to, she just could feel through her fingers and see if she needed to add anything to the mixture to get the pastry ‘just right’.
This is what she taught me.
Follow the rules till you get it right. Keep perfecting what you are doing till it becomes part of your being. Use your tools and materials until they are an extension of your body. If something doesn’t turn out the way you expected, work out why. If you like the way it turned out, make that part of your practice. If you don’t like the way it turned out, take it apart and see what went wrong.
My grandmother’s pies were works of art – and art is not a random act.
So, how do I know if the photographic paper is fixed properly? Because it no longer has the slippery feel of an alkali, but the squeaky resistance of an acid. I teach the pupils to time processes, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Timing cannot tell you how old or partially exhausted a chemical is. You need your sight, sense of smell and sense of touch. You need experience, and that comes with time.
I want to use an f/stop of f8. My meter tells me I need f11. A one stop difference means moving my light source 1.4 times. If I can’t do that, I’ll change the ISO by one stop.
The pupils copy.
The pupils experiment.
The pupils explain what they have done.
The pupils demonstrate what they have done.
The students work independently.
They become competent.
Fast forward a few years and those (now ex-pupils) are undertaking commissions of their own, and being paid. Occasionally they’ll be the one carrying my bag at a job. Anyone can carry a bag, but when they put it down and pick up their camera, they’ll produce results that will sell along with mine, and the client will not be able spot any difference.
I don’t teach art. I teach photography. I Teach cameras, lights, meters. I teach the science. I teach the maths. I teach the chemistry. I teach history.
Sitting at my desk now, I can see three digital cameras, a medium format film camera, paper developer and fixer, black and white film, a flash trigger, and a kit I’m going to turn into a sound activated trigger. This is my kitchen; these are the ingredients of my pies. They may not be the best pies in the world, but I haven’t been doing it sixty years yet!