Baby steps

The latest assignment in Kat Sloma’s Find Your Eye series is to photograph unfamiliar subjects. My preferred photographic subject is nature, especially flowers and landscapes, probably because these are easy to find and cooperative (except, of course, when trying to photograph flowers on a windy day). Moving beyond these easy subjects proved more challenging than I expected.

I set out yesterday morning to a small town near where I live to see what their downtown area had to offer in the way of photographic subjects. I had hoped for colorful doorstoops, pots of flowers, and other quaint features, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. From there I went to a nearby “pioneer” museum that features buildings and effects from 19th and early- to mid- 20th century Florida. After wandering through some of the outdoor exhibits, I decided to focus my attention on indoor natural light images. I was using my new 85mm macro lens, which is advertised to be suitable for life-size (1:1) images as well as general photography. Its largest aperture is f/3.5, so it was reasonably well-suited to the natural light task, though I did have to discard a number of “fuzzy-graph” images that resulted from a combination of camera shake and shallow depth of field.

My favorite building at the museum was the one-room schoolhouse. Imagine one row each of small, medium, and large desks from one side of the room to the other, with seats for perhaps 20 students. There was a small wood stove on one side, and a water bucket and drinking ladle on the other. The teacher ruled from her desk at the front of the room. Teaching aids included a chalkboard constructed from three or four black-painted boards, a few small slates, a globe, a piano, and a dictionary. A dunce cap sat atop a stool at the front of the room just waiting to be put on the head of a misbehaving student.

1/100 sec, f/4, ISO 200

1/50 sec, f/3.5, ISO 400

1/50 sec, f/3.5, ISO 400

I titled this post “baby steps” because I realize that the techniques I used to photograph these subjects aren’t all that different from what I usually do, but it was still a useful experience for me in terms of evaluating how to best capture the images given the natural light restrictions I placed on the exercise.

Impressions from my visit

The buildings that comprise this museum are unattended, so the staff has posted placards throughout to provide information about some of the artifacts. I was bemused as I read what was expected of the schoolmarm.

Among other things, she was directed to:

  • Wear at least two petticoats at all times (when the temperature is 90°+ for six months of the year!)
  • Fill the water bucket each morning
  • In winter, start a fire by 7 a.m. so the schoolroom would be warm by 8
  • Sweep the floor and wash the blackboard daily
  • Be indoors at home between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless there was a school function

Further, she was not allowed to:

  • Loiter at the downtown ice cream parlor
  • Ride in a carriage with a man other than her father or brother
  • Color her hair

As I walked around the museum, I was impressed at how very difficult life was for these early Floridians. Unrelenting heat for most of the year, never-ending work, taming wild land so it could be used for farming or ranching, and social restrictions of the time are just a few of the challenges they faced. They persevered, perhaps because they didn’t have a choice, and built the agricultural base that is still a big part of the state’s economy. I was humbled by the experience, wondering the whole while how I would have fared in similar circumstances.

10 thoughts on “Baby steps

  1. What a fun outing! As a former teacher, I could really relate to the history. What challenges teachers had in those days! Of course, we have a whole different set of challenges now. Nice trio of photos…..I especially like the composition in your flag image.

  2. Hey Wanda….just getting around to read other’s thoughts about stepping away from the usual. Thank you for the kind words you’ve left on my blog.
    One room school house, what a cool subject. I like you POV on the flag and the light on the old piano keys is great. They always make a good subject with their repeating patterns and contrast. You were wise to choose a museum-lots of interest, I’m sure.
    My father attended a 1 room school house in Maine for grades 1-8. I enjoy hearing his stories about “Miss Day”, how the older children helped teach the younger ones, about the outhouse out back and raising 1 or 2 fingers depending, the pot belly stove, etc. Such a throwback. I have heard some of those teacher rules before. I used to teach-it’s hard enough during the day, and then to be restricted on “off time” too? Egad. These women were saints.
    Looking forward to the next challenge.

  3. A really thoughtful and interesting post – and love seeing your close-ups … I’d never have made the pioneer grade either. The description of the classroom though, I’d recognise from my own childhood (minus the ladle and dunce’s cap – though a rounded stick for hitting pupils featured prominently!)

  4. I love that you taught us something as well as shared your photos & camera settings. I’m still learning how to set my camera… so just the fact that you were successful at producing such incredible pictures tells me you’ll be stepping outside your comfort zone again. I’ve yet to get there myself – I’m still tip-toeing around the edge of my comfort zone.

  5. Great cultural and photographic learning on your outing! I love to contemplate what life would be like in “olden times.” I would be wiped out after two days without a shower. And petticoats in 90 degree heat? UGH! I love what you found in your images though. Great job in applying your eye to new subjects. I especially love the up close flag, the detail of the stitching really jumps out at me. Thank you for pushing through your boundaries, and sharing with us!

  6. Wanda,
    Baby steps – that is how we learn! One tiny little step in front of the other. You gave yourself a technical challenge and worked with the light. And found wonderful details of your visit – love them all.

    And thanks for sharing the life of a teacher during that time – not many of us would meet those requirements. I would certainly flunk on the hair coloring and hanging out at ice cream parlors!

  7. I would have loved a visit there. Some of those rules were still in place in 1950’s N. Ireland when my Mum started teaching. She wasn’t allowed to sit down at all during the school day!

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