Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The How and the Why

(This post is a follow-up to the previous post, titled "Why Before the How")

I can hear most of you already...

"But how to take pictures is more important than the why."

No, it's not.

What's really amazing is how quickly the how-to is learned once a photograph's purpose has been established.

But let's take your argument, that you need to learn how to take pictures before going out to take them. I will ask you, which picture are you going out to take? Shall you take enough classes to cover every photographic situation possible? That class would last 1.3 billion years. Even if you were to take that large a class load, I doubt that your eyesight would hold up well enough to take pictures once you've learned all there is. And how much would you remember, say, after the first ten thousand classes?

Another question: Should you also go ahead and learn how to build a dog house, just in the off chance that you might want to have a dog sometime? Let's throw in some quantum physics, too. And some carburetor repair training, just in case.


I am reminded of my high school trig teacher, who told us right up front, on the first day of school, that, "A very few of you are ever going to need to know how to solve more than a couple of trig problems in your lifetime, and most of you will never ever need this knowledge. Besides that, when the time comes for you to need how to solve a trig problem, you will have most likely long forgotten how. So, let's all just save ourselves a lot of time and headache and skip trig. Instead I'm going to tell you stories from the military. It'll be fun, and I guarantee what you learn will be more helpful than trig."

He was right.

"By the way," he continued, "The top brass around here expects me to give you trig exams on a regular basis, and I have agreed to their terms in advance, so I have to do it. The answers will all be found in the back of the book. You may use your book during the test."

He went on to point out that this, too, was as it should be. "It's not important to memorize answers. More'n likely, you'll forget, anyway, so it's more important to know where to find an answer or who to ask. You walk around trying to hold every answer to everything in the world, and something's going to break."

He told us to practice our darts, though, because when final exam day came, he was going to bring a dartboard. I didn't believe him, though. I studied my rear end off all year. I knew it had to be a trick. I'd catch him once in a while when a tiny smirk would pop up or a twinkle would come to his eye. I'd be ready. I'd be the only one ready.

Sure enough, final day comes, in he walks empty-handed. He stops midway to his desk (which he always sat on but never behind) and stares at us with a blank look. He snaps his finger and says, "Dang. Forgot my dartboard."

Ha! I thought. I knew it! Yeah, baby bring on the test. Bring it ON!

"Tell you what," he said calmly, "I'll call roll, and you tell me what kind of grade you want for the semester." And he did. And that's what we got.

After it was done, he plotted the grades on the chalkboard behind his desk. They perfectly fit onto a bell curve. One girl asked for an F.
After class, I asked her, "Why did you ask for an F?"
"Oh," she said, "I always get F's in math. What did you ask for?"
"I asked for a B," I said.
"But you always get A's, and you're the only one who ever did any studying the whole semester - I asked around. Why'd you ask for just a B?"
"I don't know," I said, and I didn't.

I still don't.

This blog is about photography, and this story applies to photography just as well as military stories do in trig class.
Or in life.

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