Making pictures with purpose


I have a confession to make. An ex-boyfriend bought me a kickass Nikon in 2010, and I don’t think I have ever moved it off of the auto-function.

As soon as friends started spewing numbers at me regarding F-stops, ISO, Aperture etc.. my dyscalculia lizard-brain kicked in and noped right out of there. In the last 5 years I’ve entirely moved to my iPhone camera and Instagram filters.. because daaaaamn they do just fine, no?

The zone of proximal development, often abbreviated as ZPD, is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what she cannot do. It is a concept introduced, by Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky during the last ten years of his life. And that sweet ZPD spot is hard to finesse. You have to find the right teacher. A master teacher, in fact.

As the event coordinator for Level 5, I was participant on the side-lines of Peter Hennigar’s photography workshop and listened in, carrying around my camera with quasi-authority, and trying to pick up golden nuggets of learning. By the end of the two days I was richer than Skookum Jim of the Klondike days. Peter is a master teacher.

Peter’s practice is laden with constructivist theory. He didn’t just stop at constructing analogies and telling how to take a great picture, he provided ample time to personally practice the theory.

What is meant by constructivism? The term refers to the idea that learners construct knowledge for themselves- each learner individually (and socially) constructs meaning as he or she learns.

1) The process of learning is more important than the product.

2) There is no knowledge independent of the meaning attributed to experience (constructed) by the learner, or community of learners.

If we accept constructivist theory which means we agree with Vygotsky, among others, then we have to recognize that there is no such thing as knowledge “out there” independent of the knower, but only knowledge we construct for ourselves as we learn.

And that meant taking learning outside our ‘safe’ space both literally and figuratively. We journeyed into the heart of old Shekou into the wet market to find subject matter to shoot.

And we learned how to invite the stranger into a conversation to open a space for a more relaxed portrait. Which can be uncomfortable at the start.

At the end of the two days we took our learning and made it public. We hosted a small gallery show of the participants' work and invited others including students to become photographers and shoot portraits of each other.

So, now I am empowered to dust off my camera again, and view life through a new lens.

If you would like to see the photos, or learn more about events we host please visit the Level 5 website or connect on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

If you would like to learn more about Peter and his practice, please follow him on Instagram, or visit the website for more photography ideas.

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