I was in London at the end of last week, doing some private tuition for a youngish couple. It was her birthday, and he had bought the lesson as a gift for her. We were still in the throes of a very unseasonal heatwave, so I took them to a nearby garden and we sat there in the sunshine and went through the basic theory.
It started out just fine. They were very interested in how the camera worked and how you got it to do various things and when you’d use which settings, and so on, and so forth. Then we went walkabout so they could apply it all in practice. They only had one camera between them, so the tuition being her birthday present and all, she was in possession of it. I took them on my usual route, which covers all sorts of interesting, impressive and quirky parts of the city. There’s a modern, neo-Gothic building with three larger than life-size horse statues outside, a pavement with the whole history of London set into it in gold letters, a fabulous view of Tower Bridge and the Thames, weather vanes in the shape of fat, juicy fish, the Faberge jewel that’s the Swiss Re building, a shell of a mediaeval church that’s now a beautiful garden, Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror sculpture, the Lloyds Building reflected a hundred times in a facing structure……I could go on, but what I’m trying to say is that there were a million fabulous things all around them.
It all left them cold. Under-whelmed seemed to be the word of the day and she wasn’t very interested in photographing anything, it seemed – no, not even to practice. The only time they got at all animated was when they started photographing each other. (I went with that for a bit, but there was only so much mileage to be had there.) They lived and worked outside of London, so it wasn’t a case of familiarity breeding contempt, simply that nothing seemed to float their boat.
That was when I realised that what makes teaching enjoyable for me is when I see students getting enthusiastic and excited. I love it when they take picture after picture, and badger me with questions about how to get something to turn out right. They begin to see the city in a new way, and to see the possibilities for amazing images. The best of them don’t care about getting a little dusty and will happily lie on the ground if it will get them the shot. Their photographic eyes open up and they’re thrilled by everything they see. Some of them don’t say much at all, but there’s a gleam in their eye that wasn’t there when we started. That’s what makes it worthwhile.
So I sat on the train on the way home, feeling a little flat, missing the buzz that I usually get after teaching, and wondering why they didn’t see what I saw and why they needed to know how their camera worked when they were able to see little or nothing worth shooting. I think we all lost out there.
The Lloyd’s Building reflected in Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror