Progress, NJ

Photographing your hometown is something like photographing yourself. You must consider how much you are willing to show, and you must be aware of the truth you are concealing by doing this. And in both, you must accept that you will never capture an accurate portrayal, and that even if you did, would the audience see it the same way you do?

Progress, NJ is an attempt to figure out where I am from, at a time when I am preparing to leave. Progress, the idea of change, an ironic original name for my hometown, which now exists as a has or could have been. But even this progression to a shadow is indicative of a town’s ability to change it’s identity, to defy an attempt at overly narrow definition.

Change is a natural state of life, so perhaps Riverside is not doing as poorly as people in town think, only going through its latest iteration.

Perhaps I’m wrongfully imposing personality on a town, and by doing so misleading my audience or myself into accepting that presentation of the town.

Progress, NJ, is the story of a town as told by someone there, through what is and isn’t there.

Thinking of Photography as a Rhetorical Device

In order to highlight the ideas of illusory truth and the kindly haze of nostalgia, I decided on using a disposable camera to photograph Riverside, with the lens covered in Vaseline. I did this after talking with the professor about the soft focus that Vaseline creates in photographs and after seeing the hazy, haunting photographs made by Susan Burstine. The goal was to create a sense of dreaminess, something that would suggest a warm hominess.

As I recognized early on through class discussions, the truth is something that doesn’t come out in photographs. Despite this, truth is often looked for in photographs, especially in a series of photos about a town.

Even in my attempt at a random sampling, there is a statement about truth. I am still selecting what to be photographed, from what angle, and what pictures to choose to present to the public as representative of Riverside.

Errol Morris’ writes in Believing is Seeing “the minute you take one picture as opposed to another, or the minute you select one photograph from a group of photographs, you are doing something very, very similar to manipulating reality.”

This is where I thought the benefit of the soft focus in my photographs was. By reducing the images to outlines, warm colors and vague shapes, I could avoid appearing to establish my pictures as the true representation of Riverside by instead presenting the town as I see it, in a forgiving nostalgic glow. The blurry, warm haze is a rhetorical framing of the images, placing them in my memory rather than as an attempt to present a straight, factual view of the town. The disposable camera was meant to enforce the idea of rhetorical presentation. It was my hope that the perception of the disposable camera being sort of out-dated and simplistic-as opposed to the professional, polished, and perhaps calculated feel sometimes given by sophisticated equipment-would lend itself to my goal of attempting to present these images as how I see Riverside.

I mentioned earlier a random sampling. My original goal was to simply take pictures of the many abandoned buildings and vacant lots, but as I discussed my project with the professor, I realized that isn’t all that Riverside is, not even to me. So my focus widened: to photographs of train tracks, small backyard gardens, informal auto repair, flags outside of apartment windows, letter carriers. Old ball fields.

These I hoped would work together as a parts-for-whole semiotic device (individual parts presented as representative for the whole town). I was aware that I was still perhaps limiting Riverside to these things, but I felt it also the town to be more than how I originally planned on displaying it. By not photographing one aspect of town, I am showing that nostalgia blurs an understanding of what a place really is, while also hinting at an awareness that any of my subjects could define Riverside for other people.

I photographed from ten to eleven in the morning over the course of a weekend in order to make use of the very bright sun and the vibrant highlights on grass, brick, etc that I was highlighting. The Vaselined photos I altered in Picasa after scanning them onto my computer. This was both to emphasize color contrast and to highlight building outlines.  These changes were designed enhance the “warmth” of the colors, which I thought would again move them, again, from the exactitude of the real world to the way nostalgia adjusts and glosses over the bad parts.

I made minimal crops to my photographs. Cropping, as we discussed in class, further removes the image from the reality it existed in. Overall, I avoided cropping because I didn’t want to dissociating the images from Riverside. I felt that by framing the pictures as the Riverside in my memory was dissociative enough from the reality of Riverside, so I only made some few edits to bring an object into the foreground.

As pointed out by mapmaker Denis Woods, all visual presentations present a myth, or point of view, a message, about what they display. It would be remiss of me to acknowledge that my selection of subjects was designed with stereotype in mind. These subjects were picked because I felt them most representative of a post-industrial small town. My subjects were things I thought I’d seen in other photo essays about quiet towns; the idea of perseverance or carrying on despite setbacks seems to be a common theme in similar work. By photographing subjects I’d seen in other similar photo essays, I am acknowledging the genre expectations I am working with (and in), and the blurriness is then a visual signal of the sense of nostalgia I am trying to capture.

Former Zurbrugg Hospital

In her discussion of photographs as meaning-making devices, Annete Khun writes that “the photograph is a prompt, a pre-text, it sets the scene for recollection.” Theorist Susan Sontag adds that “the photograph may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is “like” what’s in the pictures.”

What’s in the pictures, as discussed in class, is often less important than what’s left out of the picture, and that absence is something I was trying to highlight.

Despite photographing an empty lot, despite the knowledge that the image would be distorted by the Vaseline I’d wiped across the lens, I approached shooting this site as if it were any other landscape. Indeed, in composing the shot I sought out opportunities to incorporate landscape photography rules into my  pictures.

Facing a relatively empty shot, I repositioned myself to take advantage of the nearby watchcase building. This was to build a sense of depth. The layering of visual levels is beneficial to solidifying and centering the main topic of my photo. Now stacked between a rough shaped building (old Riverside, the past) in the background, and a chain link fence in the fore, the tree in the middle (new Riverside, the potential) becomes centered (semiotic prominence), and serves to focus the viewer to the largely empty middle ground.

The tree is also framed by the chain link fence. The fence, with its recurring shapes and  strong diagonal lines help to draw the eye towards the enter of the image, which is bare.

If, as Sontag writes, photographs are appropriation of the thing photographed, and that these photographs taken and selected are imbued with the values of the photographer, then what stance am I assuming with this picture? Why did I choose this image, what do I intend for it to reflect?

Martin Lister, in writing about the intertextuality of photographs, notes that no picture is isolated, rather, it is located within a network of photographs on a similar topic. The audience, having been exposed to these other photographs before, will then able to understand what the picture is about. This associative thinking is why I incorporated the chain link into this photograph, it was a device meant to connect to help connect my image with other photographs of fenced-off lots. By making this association, I am trying to, as Khun writes, use my photograph as a prompt.

In showing an empty lot, I hoped that the audience would wonder about the lot’s past and it’s future, and why I am choosing this place as indicative of Riverside.

These questions, the statement about Riverside is continued by the irony (vitality amongst the barren) and juxtaposition (tree represents potential for new growth out of wreckage it stands in) of the tree‘s location. As I mentioned before, the tree (newness/ future growth) is juxtaposed against the outline of the watchcase building (old Riverside, lack or end of growth).

Over the course of class discussions, I learned that the biggest question we must ask when considering a photograph is what statement it is making. Through framing, juxtaposition, and centering, I am reevaluating my opinions of what Riverside is and what it could be, and asking the audience to reconsider theirs.

What’s in a (Fake) Photo

In Believing is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography), author Errol Morris recalls the summer of 1936 in Great Plains, North Dakota and the heat weave that ravaged the area. Through government spending on photography, three accusations of fake photos printed by both local and national newspapers came to light, only one, as Morris wrote “appeared to be an out-and-out fraud”: The photograph of a herd cattle invading the state capitol during the drought, yet turns out after another round of accusations, was not a fake, but where the cattle was always located. I was mesmerized by the questionable photos, especially the taken-out-of-context cow skull in the middle of nowhere. Knowing that a prominent news organization like the Associated Press (AP) picked up on this image (and earlier in Morris’ book he mentions how the New York Times identified the wrong man as The Hooded Man and expressed their embarrassed in the interview) and altered their meaning(s) made me think falsity that oftentimes ends up being reported as truth. Think of celebrity death hoaxes, as countless users light up the Twitter scoreboard with the trending #RIPInsertNameHere (the latest faux-victim: Jennifer Lopez). The same applies to what a manipulated, ultimately altered photo does to the reputation of a celebrity.

I'm no fake (Source: DNT)

I’m no fake (Source: DNT)


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Photo Essay: The Image of a Child

Over the last few weeks I have been studying the medium of photography, a topic I have never really explored or studied before. I read not only about the historical signifance of photography from Alan Trachtenberg’s Classic Essays on Photography as well articles from the likes of Annette Kuhn, Victor Burgin and Susan Sontag, but I have questioned my own authority when it comes to taking photographs. To perhaps show off what I have learned in a very short time, I have completed a full-length photo essay by tapping into my own childhood and analyzing one photo based off of photography and semiotic theories. This is part memoir, part academic, but an interesting read none the less that relies on just one photograph. Click the link (that will direct you to ISSU) below:


The Image of a Child by Christina Maxwell

Semiotic/Comic Analysis of Coraline


Coraline: The Graphic Novel (Source:

Coraline: The Graphic Novel (Source:

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.

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Fallow: A Photo Essay


For my photo essay, I will be using option one of the assignment for class and gathering 12-15 individual photographs on a theme. My essay is dubbed Fallow, and will be a look at my hometown. This essay will be sort of in the style of The Ruins of Detroit.

My hometown of Riverside is a slightly (though nowhere near the same scale) situation. In Riverside, much has been torn down to make may for new business ventures–yet most of it left undeveloped for years (or forever) as money or interest dry up.  I’m interested in the topic because, obviously, it is my home.

My goal for each photograph is to either match it with the structure that stood there, or else write what stood, and what was/is planned to go there (possibly, how long it has stood undeveloped). This is a big part of why I chose the topic, as many of the demolished structures were large parts of the town’s history.

I will be using a digital camera, and hopefully using some sort of software to layer in what stood over the current situation of the land to create a juxtaposition and to kind of capture a sense of loss in my final essay. If, for any reason–professor vetoes the topic, can’t find software or can’t figure out the manipulation–I plan on using a disposable camera to take the same pictures of the spaces as they exist, and then mess with the developed pictures to degrade them in an attempt to question why something in perfectly fine shape/not hurting anyone would be degraded, as a sort of metaphor for the actual spaces.

Celebrity 4 Selfie

UK Girl Group The Saturdays posing selfie-style for Fabulous magazine (Source: The

UK girl group The Saturdays posing selfie-style for Fabulous magazine (Source: The

Last weekend, international pop star Katy Perry sent out a cautionary tweet to her 52 million followers:

What she is referring to is the selfie, defined as self-portrait photograph, taken with a digital camera or cell phone. These photos are often posted on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. To find a selfie, perhaps we need to place it in one of the categories Victor Burgin discusses in “Looking at Photographs” as the four types of look in a photograph, the one being “the look the actor directs to the camera.”

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Photo Essay Proposal: Childhood Memories

For the upcoming photo essay assignment, I have decided to choose option #2, the vintage family style photograph of myself. I believe this is the more challenging of the two options and I also believe this assignment will allow me to demonstrate my awareness of semiotics, something that I have been struggling with all semester long.

I felt a deep connection with Annette Kuhn’s 1991 article “Remembrance: The Child I Never Was” as she wrote about how photographs can create conflicting memories. There were many times over the years where I would go through boxes in my household closet or attic and flip through family photo albums that contained pictures of my mother’s and father’s baby photos and pictures of their respective families and then find a slew of my baby and childhood photos, and much like Kuhn’s mother, my own mother would write either a date, a year or a location that was connected to the photo (and sometimes get the date or location mixed up with another photo/memory). There is something to be said about the time away from a photograph and how we place previous memories or expectations on a piece of paper and I would really like to dive into my own history, dig up some young photographs of myself and through my understanding of photographic history and theory, look at these vintage photographs with a critical eye and in-depth understanding.

I believe choosing this option will not only require some self-awareness of my past and honesty about what my childhood represents (today), but what those moments meant to the person taking the picture (the photographer).

What’s in a (Video) Remix

(Image Source: Tuxboard)

(Image Source: Tuxboard)



As a homage to my recently-completed mashup on creativity through remixing, I wanted to briefly look at the art of musical remixing, editing or recreating a sound different from an original version. What I’d like to do here is to note the differences between an original music video and the remix, and perhaps decipher why artists remix their own work and find out how fans have taken the lead in the art of video remixing.

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Analysis of The Bling Ring

If you’re looking for a movie that captures the essence of celebrity-obsession, Sofia Coppola’s (daughter of famed director Francis Ford Coppola) led The Bling Ring certainty tops that list. The movie, released last summer, is based on the real life crimes of a group of Los Angeles teenagers who broke into the homes of a slew of A-list celebrities including Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson and Megan Fox. While the real buglers are spending time behind bars and still in the midst of a lengthy probation, the movie became not only fodder for the actual crime, but allowed for a satirical look—while not violent in nature, still an invasion of privacy, but planned (by these teenagers) for the purposes of obtaining expensive clothing and jewelry. As movie critic Richard Roeper called Emma Watson’s portrayal of Alexis Neiers “comedic gold”, while on the surface, Watson isn’t playing the role of a cartoon character leaping over fences, skinning knees, cracking jokes and misleading officers about her identity when confronted at the home she shares with her mother and father and her two sisters, her character is simply oblivious to reality, as she  truly thinks she means what she says.

Emma Watson in The Bling Ring (Source: NextMovie)

Emma Watson in The Bling Ring (Source: NextMovie)

I thought the dichotomy of this movie allowed for a bit more interpretation on my end.

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