This past week I gave a talk to a group of first graders. I did not really want to do it, as I thought it would be as about as easy as herding cats. Afterwards, I thought herding cats may actually be easier, but I was glad that I did it. The difficulty was the endless questions that often times did not have much to do with what I came to them to talk about. There was one little boy who’s hand was permanently raised asked me if I was a famous photographer. I was not sure what to say, and the answer I gave him, I am not sure made any sense to him, but I knew that I had to say something. So, I told him that in photography, it was photographs that became famous, not photographers. I then took the opportunity to show some news pictures that even those first graders knew, like the Hindenburg explosion and the flag raising during World War II. They may not have much of an appreciation of the event, but they knew the pictures. One child was able to tell me that the blimp that blew up was the Hindenburg. Very smart kids! But it did not occur to them that there was someone who took the picture and in the case of Rosenthal’s war photographs was someone who put themselves in harms way to be there to take that photograph so that we could see it some 70 years later. The photograph is famous, not the photographer. After telling the kid about how photographs are better known than the photographers who took them, I told him that it is the way it should be.
Before I could fully answer his question he and the other students had numerous questions, many of which had little to do with photography. I first thought that the barrage of questions would frustrate me, but I turned out to be amused by them and marveled at the quickness of their minds. It was not how I remembered first grade, but then I have a filter of 50 plus years to cloud my memory. In some ways I envy their curiosity.
In the end, I think that I did bring them something, even if they do not understand everything that I told them. I showed them my 4×5 wood field camera because it would be a good way to show them F-Stops and Shutter Speeds. They marveled at seeing the upside and backwards image on the ground glass. They found interesting the way that with my digital camera I could put the student in the background out of focus in one photo and then have that same student as sharp as the foreground students by changing something, they did not know exactly what, on my camera. They found it wondrous that I was able to make a student’s moving arms disappear by having her move her arms up and down during the exposure. I did not give them a complete understanding of photography by any means, but I would like to think that to some extent I planted some seeds.