Month: April 2014

Sack Things and the Self

 

According to this project by Tegan Harris, there are 5 main types of characters which gamers create to represent themselves:

  1. the true self
  2. the heroic self
  3. the powerful self
  4. the fantasy self
  5. the random character

The “true” self, according to Harris, is a virtual representation of the player’s self-perception but may not equal the perception others have of the player. The “heroic” self is also a representation of the “true” self but with all positive or all negative attributes greatly exaggerated. The “powerful” character is designed to be effective within the realm of the game: gaining levels, completing quests, and completing the game. The “fantasy” character represents the “true” self but shows “aspects of the player… that are completely [unfeasible] in the real world.” The “random” character is not built toward any goal but it just an interesting choice for the player and serves as a distraction from the real world. Continue reading

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Relatable Themes: Texts of Movie Posters

Text in movie posters tells us important information.  The title of the movie, the names of the main actors, positive reviews…all are things that may be revealed on a poster.  These texts work to frame the images into a certain state of mind for the viewer, indicating that the image they are looking at, the layering of characters and scenes and objects, is going to create this central movie idea.

Sounds plausible, right? Like a good semiotic argument for the way iconic text fonts inspire meaning in what producers hope will be similarly iconic movies.

Except that everyone has done it. Turn now to Kirby Ferguson for what he thinks about Trajan fonts.

 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Instead of meaning being made by an origin that nobody except font junkies would recognize, meaning is made simply through being a movie.  Our eyes have seen so many similar fonts that now all we think is “we are about to watch a movie”.  Cutting out the middle man of the Trajan column, we associate Trajan font to an epic movie.  The Trajan font itself is an icon for a “about to watch a movie.”  Even if it causes frustration for the people who are accustomed to looking at these types of things.

So the image of the titles of movies on movie posters, before you can even analyze the words themselves, try to reinforce what the movie is going to be about.  Like other elements in the movie posters, the creator of the image tries to cram as much information as possible into the small space so the viewer will know what to expect.

 

Sources:

http://scifimoviefilms.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/godzilla-poster.jpg

http://movieswallpapers.net/wp-content/uploads/frozen-movie-poster-2.jpg

http://www.tearaway.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Unknown-9.jpeg

http://fontmeme.com/titanic-font/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trajan%27s_Column

http://coastguard.dodlive.mil/2010/04/how-the-sinking-of-the-titanic-changed-the-world/

http://www.environmentalhistory.org/revcomm/features/radio-and-the-titanic/

http://www.unrv.com/five-good-emperors/dacian-wars.php

http://wellmedicated.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/maniac_poster.jpg

http://images2.fanpop.com/images/photos/6500000/Alice-Sweet-Alice-movie-poster-horror-movies-6554635-407-600.jpg

http://www.impawards.com/2009/orphan_xlg.html

http://www.empireonline.com/images/uploaded/backtoback1.jpg

http://www.culturefeast.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/27_dresses-poster.jpg

http://images.moviefanatic.com/iu/t_full/v1364991090/sweet-home-alabama-movie-poster.jpg

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_305_hGb3mnk/TP909t-z5aI/AAAAAAAADYQ/fho1uSOaWhs/s1600/harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows-part-i-movie-poster-1020540376.jpg

Second Photo Essay Proposal-Progress, NJ

Originally, my intention for the photo essay was to attempt capturing photos of abandoned spaces in town in an attempt to show what my hometown had become, in the tradition of The Ruins of Detroit.

However, as I began going out and thinking about the photographs I was taking, and after a conversation with the professor, I began to rethink my purpose.

The professor had mentioned that as I was trying to capture decay, my presentation of the town would be incomplete without showing photos of the town doing well.

At first I didn’t think that this went along with what I saw as true to the town, a thought which lead me to my new proposal.

Truth is, of course, illusory. I cannot present any absolute truth about Riverside. So instead, I am trying to show the many things that a town can be.

In order to emphasize this, I am using disposable cameras I’ve altered with vaseline. By doing this I am trying to mess with the focus and clarity of the images.

This is a semiotic choice. As I mentioned earlier, truth is illusory. The vaseline/soft focus distortion is therefore an attempt at reinforcing this notion, the dream-like quality this adds to the photographs is hopefully realized as part of the illusion of being able to call any portion the whole truth.

 

 

Semiotic/Comic Analysis of Coraline

 

Coraline: The Graphic Novel (Source: Amazon.com)

Coraline: The Graphic Novel (Source: Amazon.com)

I recently spent time reading and analyzing the graphic novel of Coraline, written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by P. Craig Russell through the understanding of both semiotics and comic theory. The graphic novel is an adaption of Gaiman’s national bestseller that introduces us to a curious young girl named Coraline who discovers a secret, hidden door that takes her into an alternate world that is unlike anything she has ever experienced. In this world, she has a mother and father who are eager to spend time with her (unlike her distracted, “real world” parents), but with considerable strings attached. While I enjoyed the story, I was interested in how I was going to understand this graphic novel, which I will admit is a genre I do not usually read.

Continue reading

The Anchor: You Know You Want It

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word anchor since reading Ronald Barthes’s “Rhetoric of the Image”. Let me start from the beginning, though.

Before defining the word, anchor, Barthes establishes the probably that “in ever society, various techniques are developed intended to fix the floating chain of signifieds in such a way as to counter the terror of uncertain signs…” In other words, every picture has an infinite scope of contextual potential. So, with such a wide array of possible meanings for a picture—varying by who is looking and when/where they are—pictures need anchors, or something to provide “control” and “bear a responsibility—in the face of projective power of pictures—for the use of the message.”

Take this advertisement for example:

mcdonalds_ad-Don't Stare Too Long

I found this picture online when I searched ‘McDonald’s advertisements’ on Google. Obviously, it is a picture of an advertisement, but we’ll pretend for the moment that we’re seeing it in person.

Imagine there were no text on the advertisement, and just a picture of an Egg McMuffin. Sure, many people would still see it as an advertisement, but it would also lose a lot of potential viewers in the noise surrounding it. These days, don’t pictures of fast food remind us of things like hear disease, obesity epidemics, animal cruelty, and minimum wage concerns as much as they remind us about the food itself? The Egg McMuffin is not innocent, and McDonald’s knows this.

The anchor text of the image reads, “don’t stare too long[,] you’ll miss the train”. Here, McDonald’s is distracting us from the rest of this contextual noise and making us see it as they want to see it: desirable. But I don’t think McDonald’s expects anyone to actually think, Aw man, I almost missed my train because I was so lost in the beauty of this Egg McMuffin! Good call, McDonalds. More likely, McDonald’s wants us to pick up on their intertextual play with sexual phrases. The “don’t stare too long” is just a textual equivalent of the quintessential American scene wherein the gawking male momentarily loses his wits while checking out a woman. Or, in linguistic form, something along the lines of this:

My eyes are up here

The McMuffin advertisement gets even more interesting once you look at its placement within the frame. We might expect the text to be somewhere on the bottom, in some more marginal position while the image engulfs most of the space. However, the anchor of this advertisement consumes half of the picture, given an equal prominence to the McMuffin itself. Whereas most advertisements idealize their products at the center of the picture, McDonald’s does not. It’s almost as if McDonald’s, through their suggestive language, is acknowledging that it is unhealthy—something less like food and more like a casual encounter with a stranger. And by making the text as prominent as the image, the reader is gestured to consider the guilty proposal as much as we are the product.

After all of this, I’ve come to see anchors as not only holding down a meaning for the picture, but also as attempts by certain parties to anchor the reader/viewer, to try and sway us away from the more prevalent—and perhaps more important—meanings behind objects. We, as consumers and citizens, need to remain critical and skeptical, so as not to fall under the spell of such textual hypnotics.

Proposal: With These Hands

I would like to photograph the hands of people as they go about their daily activities.  I would not photograph faces, but would focus solely on the hands and their various trials.  The photos should show differences for blue collar and white collar jobs, for class differences, and how much the subject cares about themselves and their own appearance (in the sense of hygiene and public appearances).

After this, I will ask the subjects for a picture of their hands with open palms, and ask for a brief account of how they define themselves – as a friend, a mechanic, a student, etc.

I want to do this project to see the differences between classes of people, the way they define themselves, and if those are correlated at all to how much they “use and abuse” their hands.

There should be less ethical dilemmas with this photo essay than my other proposals because the subjects are actively participating in the photos.  That’s not to say they will be posed, but I do not need to hide my intentions in order to get candid shots.

I will use a digital camera to take these pictures, perhaps altering the color and clarity of the photos depending on the hands in the photograph, to emphasize specific lines and features that may not be visible in normal conditions.  I also have a Minolta XG-M that I may use to control the focus more, and I would not need to worry about being apparent as I did with the other proposals. I want to experiment with wrapping each of the cameras in saran wrap to see the effects of that as well.

Proposal (Take 2): A Mile in Their Shoes

As a new topic for my photo essay, I would like to focus on the subject of shoes.  This ranges from athletic shoes to dress shoes to the beat up comfort shoes of those who can’t afford them, along with the situations in which the shoes are used.  While I will focus on photographing singular pairs of shoes in their specific context, I would also like to branch further and look at the contexts of shoes when they are not being used.

I am interested in this topic because I think it is a good example of the way people portray themselves, and the way that people judge others.  Even if shoes are useful to a certain situation, there are nuances in the types of ways that people use shoes to identify themselves.  I, for example, cycle through a couple of my favorite shoes because I care more about being comfortable in daily activities.  On the other hand, my sister is running out of places to store them in her room because each pair of shoes matches a different outfit.

There will be some ethical issues (like my first proposal), although there will be less stress on getting candid photos.  The subjects may be aware that I am taking their picture without effecting the general purpose of the photo.  However, in some cases where candid photos may serve a greater purpose, I would still be photographing people without their permission.

I will use a digital camera to take these pictures, perhaps altering the clarity of the photos depending on the shoes in the photograph.  A photo of more beat-up shoes, for example, will have less clarity than a photo of stilettos.  I also have a Minolta XG-M that I may use to control the focus more, but it would not be as inconspicuous as a digital camera in these public spaces. I want to experiment with wrapping each of the cameras in saran wrap to see the effects of that as well.

Palestine, by Joe Sacco

Palestine is an interesting book, a work of comic-journalism (as the author Joe Sacco identifies himself), in that while exploring and existing in the muddy, unclear politics of the Palestine, Israel, and resettlement zones.

While Sacco the character plays out a fact-finding mission

WP_20140423_010

Sacco the artist uses a variety of techniques to inspire sympathy for the people he lives with, those without a place in their homeland.

mccloudfoundation4

Abstracting, as explained above by Scott McCloud,comics theorist, is only one such technique, but it is crucial. Sacco turns to abstraction time and again for the natives that he comes in contact with; however his own character remains constantly abstract no matter the setting.

palestine

This is a planned and very powerful rhetorical move. McCloud writes that “when you look at a photo or realistic drawing of a face, you see it as the face of another. But when you enter the world of the cartoon, you see yourself  “(p.36). So, by rendering himself-our touchstone in this journey-to a cartoon, Sacco forces us to explore the world ourselves.

palestine2

It’s a very Robert Crumb face. This style is also a stylistic choice, as Sacco shows himself quite capable as drawing in a variety of styles.

palestine1

So then, why the Crumb references? McCloud writes that “in R. Crumb’s world, the curves of innocence are betrayed by the neurotic quill-lines of modern adulthood and left painfully out of place” (p.126).

WP_20140423_011 palestine

This both separates Sacco/us from the environment, both strengthening our connection to him and emphasizing the harshness/realness of the world of the Middle East.

Conversely, the neuroticism of the world is often and effectively exaggerated.

palestine3

Here, the IDF representative attempts to explain why Sacco and his companions can’t get through.

So what’s the result?

By investing ourselves in Sacco’s character, by seeing and experiencing vicariously through him, we develop sympathy for those he (we) lives with. This is of course, his goal. By avoiding making any statement of the rightness of either side, Sacco’s personal journey, which we follow along on, encourages it’s readers to at least become at least critical of the usual presentation of the average Palestinian.

The Symbols Inside the Devil Inside

With all movies (barring documentary) we, as viewers, are aware that what we are seeing is not true. We know the “sender” is telling us an elaborate lie — a story — and we have to suspense our ability to disbelieve in order to fully immerse ourselves in a movie-watching experience. Horror is especially adept at crafting this lie: Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, and a variety of other movies play on the idea of “found film” so make what we’re viewing so much more real. But it’s not enough to merely give the viewer these “recordings,” a viewer must be able to relate, to read all the signs, in order to feel the true impact of a horror film.

I wanted to look not at a concept of horror film for this entry, but at a film itself. I’ve previously discussed the fear of the unknown, the use of religious images, and the use of color in horror. The Devil Inside uses all of these concepts and far more in its story, and while neither the best nor my favorite film (I found it mostly middle-ground in terms of horror), I decided to look at how symbols and semiotic concepts are used, specifically, in this film.

The Devil Inside Movie

Also, it was available on Netflix.

The film begins with a purposeful attempt to blur the lines of reality. This is not just found footage: We are shown crime scene footage (quite dark, despite being in a house, where lights exist — but camera-flashlights add so much tension!), and a clip from a newscast before centering in on an interview with Isabella Rossi, the daughter of the woman who committed the murders from the crime scene footage. All fake, and all carefully crafted, the film wants us to believe we are watching a documentary, even when falling on some of the most commonly stereotypical horror tropes. (At the end of the crime scene footage there is an unknown sound before the camera cuts away. Spooooooky.) It wants to create that fear of the unknown, somethings expanded upon even farther as the film begins: We see a broken chair, a dead priest, and a woman clutching a cross before we hear the words “exorcism.” Even without seeing a preview, the film makes use of painfully obvious symbols to foreshadow the overall point of the movie. It does this far more subtly, a number of minutes in, as Isabella sits in on a class at the Vatican School of Exorcism (not a real school), and we conveniently hear mention of the transference of demons. Gee, I wonder what will happen later. It’s in these beginning scenes that the film sets the stage for it’s own mythos and intratextuality that we need to accept as viewers. Without our relation to these first moments of film, the rest of the movie would not work.

There are also times where the movie relies heavily on color — although these scenes are few. When Isabella goes to visit her mother in the mental hospital, we see camera footage of her mother. The film appears black-and-white, but for the dull color of a yellow chair. Incidental? Maybe, but also perhaps a moment of calm brightness to contrast the next color in the scene, which is the red of blood, standing out even brighter. The scenes in the hospital themselves are nothing special: The video is dull, normal “found footage”-style fair, which doesn’t seem the match the crisp realness of the other documentary camera moments, but does work to show the somber nature of a mental hospital.

Shortly after that first hospital visit, we are shown a mash-up, of sorts. Isabella voices over what it’s like to effectively lose both her parents. As she does this the video switches between Isabella walking by herself in crowds of people, religious imagery, statues that represent loneliness. These images are quick moments, the get us a feeling of loss and being lost. Even though she has a camera man/documentarian with her, Isabella is alone. She has no parents, no hint of a significant other, and it is earlier-hinted that she has had an abortion, which could be a symbol of literal emptiness insider her. A similar voice-over mash-up moment happens shortly after when a young priest discusses his background with exorcisms.

This film also falls back on the perversion of religion. “Inverted crosses, commonly used in Satanic rituals.” But we’ve already discussed the problem with that. Later we move on to a young girl possessed by a demon, containing some more apparent symbols: “She’s getting worse,” her mother warns, saying she moved her to the basement. She’s getting worse, so she is physically getting lower, getting put in a dark, dank space, and closer to Hell.

DI_52

It’s here we get to view our first “real,” brutal exorcism and demonic possession. And the demon shows in the young girl’s body: She is contorted and ugly, marked by bruises, blood, and dirt. The demon is not elegant, and neither is this girl. She wears her possession like a gown, so the characters and the viewers both can understand that even if the Devil can be subtle, smooth, and resort to trickery, demons are rough and obvious. They make a normally-pretty girl physically “wrong.”

These themes continue throughout the movie, mimicked in obvious and more subtle ways–generally the more obvious. This is not a movie with symbols twined in like a delicate thread, but it is still not a movie without its symbols. It is also a movie who keeps to one solid plot, and the later hospital scene and later exorcism are so similar to the one we see in the first half there is no need to reiterate. A choice that perhaps does not make for the most frightening of films, but does at least hold true to it’s own setting, and is a good example of common symbols and semiotics in horror film.

Proposal: Remember When We Thought That Was Fun?

I would like to explore the idea of “fun” through the use of portraits and collages. I was thinking about how my idea of a good time has changed since I was a child. When I was in elementary school, I loved to swing on our swing set for hours–I didn’t need to listen to music or play games while I did it, the swinging was enough. When I was in middle school, I started using technology more. My favorite thing to do was play games on the computer. In high school, I just liked to hang out with my friends. There was nothing greater than throwing a movie into the VCR (later the DvD player) and then ignoring it while we all talked on the couch. In early college, I watched as my friends went to the bars and clubs, but my closest friend and I preferred to go to coffee shops and read our poetry (I’m mortified just admitting that). Now, I enjoy a hybrid of going home and being out. I like going to the archery range but I also like to be home with a good book.

I would like to take portraits which show what a person does for fun (a musician would hold their instrument, a biker would be in their riding gear, a bookworm would be smothered in a pile of books) and then I would like to put that portrait on top of a collage that was taken by the subject. I would the subject to take photos (with the cell phones, their digital cameras, a disposable camera) of what they thought was fun at ages 10, 13, 15, 18, 21 (if they are old enough to) and whatever their current age is.

My goal is to show the change and influence of our hobbies over time.