I’ve been trying my hand at a bit of bead craft recently, and it’s not been going strictly to plan. The false starts and delays could have something to do with my approach … not for me the slow and gentle progression from crafting a daisy or two, to maybe a rose, to maybe something a little more ambitious. Nope. I need to make a tree. Not a miniature tree to put on the table, but a tree tall enough to look up to (if you’re not very tall, that is). And I need to make it quickly.
My wrestling with wire and beads led me, during more meditative moments when the furrow between my brows smoothed just a little, to think about photography and how tackling something like making a large bead and wire tree is very much like starting photography.
First of all, it looks easier than it is.
In South Africa, we have people selling beautifully crafted bead and wire items at every street corner and traffic light. The light bounces off the beaded bowls, keyrings, animals, flowers and insects they wave at one. Sometimes, when the sun is low and the beads are backlit, they glow enticingly in the hands of the crafters, and it’s very hard not to covet a sparkly, colourful creation. Curio shops and galleries sell huge, almost life-size, creations, and markets are crammed with all sorts of beaded creations.
And so it is with photography. Hundreds of thousands – probably millions – of images are uploaded onto the web every day. Some photographs are spectacular in a ‘I could never do that’ kind of way. Others inspire one to get out there and try, because ‘I could definitely do that!’, which means the ‘I could never do that’ pics are almost within reach.
If so many people are crafting beautiful bead objects, and so many people are taking good photographs, it must be pretty easy, right? Because not everyone’s a genius, and so if it doesn’t take a genius, then I’m in with a shot. I think?
All it means, though, is that a lot of people have put in a lot of hours to make it look easy.
Bead craft and photography both require you to know some stuff before you start. We’re not born knowing about wire gauges and different types of beads. Nor are we born knowing about ISOs, apertures and shutter speeds. Sure, you can string some beads on a bit of wire, bend it around a bit, and have something that’s quite pretty and decorative. In the same way you can pick up a cellphone or a tablet or an aim-and-shoot, and snap some pretty passable pictures. Both the beadwork and the snappy will get you likes on Facebook – plenty, even. But if you want to create something of greater value, something that someone will want to pay money for, you’re going to have to bone up on some basics.
And once you have the basics, you’ll need to learn some tricks, because there’s always more you don’t know. Just when you think you’ve worked out how to wind strings of beads around a structure, you find that the rows are no longer even when you have to wind from left to right and back again. You need to find a new technique. And when you think you understand focus or rule of thirds or exposure, you find yourself in a situation that needs fill-in flash. If you don’t know about fill-in flash or about reflectors, you’re back to producing average pictures … pictures that would have been better produced by someone else.
and there is always a better way to do something. You can thread the beads one by one, for example, or you can use a bead spinner. And you can either spend your money on buying a bead spinner, or you can figure out how to make one. I figured out how to make one. It doesn’t look very professional, but it works, and the lengths of wire are filling up much faster now.