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Disconnected: A Photo Essay Refections

Disconnected: A Photo Essay explores the relationship between hands, shoes, and our personal identities.

 

 

Reflection 1: On the Choice of Camera and Photographs

There were a number of possibilities for the camera that I could use in this project.  Should I use a disposable camera in order to reflect the idea that we treat our hands as disposable objects, ready to be used and then discarded until future use?  Should I manipulate the images with filters and cropping to draw attention to specific moments?

After careful consideration, I chose a digital camera, a Sony Cybershot DSC-W530.  There’s nothing inherently special about this camera: the features are for the ease of amateur photographers, not intending for the user to be overwhelmed by possibilities.  This camera best suited my needs in a couple ways.

First, a digital camera captured the texture and detail of the hands and shoes.  The lines, wrinkles and age spots wouldn’t appear on a disposable camera the same way they would on a digital camera.  The shadows in the mesh or fabric of shoes were brightened and intensified by using the digital camera.

More detail, the kind a more advanced camera captures, would have greatly enhanced the focus I was trying to portray.  However, in weighing my options, I chose instead to capture natural images of people who were comfortable with being photographed.  Even with a simple camera, when I first began taking pictures, I got a series of questions signaling their discomfort, especially those I didn’t know.  What did I want them to do with their hands?  What was the purpose?  How many people were going to see?  These first photos felt staged and awkward because the subjects were so uncomfortable.  They didn’t show the natural dichotomy between hands and shoes that I was looking for.

Using a digital camera also allowed me to “sneak” some pictures.  Digital cameras don’t draw attention to themselves the same way professional cameras do: nearly everyone owns a digital camera in this technological age, even if it’s the one built into their phones.  If I had a digital camera out, looking at the screen, others did not spare a second glance.  To counteract some of the nervousness of the subjects, I could take the photos of their hands first and inform them after, showing them the pictures and asking their permission to use them in the essay.

In this technique I captured a series of photos from various subjects.  I carried a camera with me everywhere I went, always on the lookout for interesting activities.  I photographed many people in order to have a wide variety of tasks to show in the essay.  The more I photographed, the more I became aware of the best light, the best angle.  For example, in one photograph, the subject wanted to light a cigarette.  If I looked at his hands from behind, where he was shielding the lighter, his hand was dark and difficult to see.  From the front, the flame became a central focus, illuminating both the lines on his hands and the scene around him.

After taking the images, I edited all of the photos in Picasa.  This relatively simple editor allowed me to adjust the images of hands by adding a soft focus, blurring the background so that the viewer paid attention to the detail of the hands in action.  I cropped each photo meticulously until each was aesthetically pleasing to the eye.  In some photos, I also adjusted the saturation and the shadows in order to draw out more details that the camera couldn’t capture on its own.  The photo of a woman holding up a stethoscope, for example, became more appealing through adding more shadows: all of the unique shadows in her hands were also heightened.

I chose the images in this photo essay not only for their aesthetic qualities, the ones that simply were the most intriguing after I edited them, but also for the way that the hands and the shoes spoke to each other.  How did the hands of a girl in slicing cheese in a deli slicer, equipped with hot pink nail polish, relate to her purple shoes?  How did hands flipping through a magazine relate to black leather boots, only half-laced?

These images told a story in themselves, of an identity trying to assert itself no matter what task the hands were meant to do.  The photos in the essay were chosen for their particular dynamic between hands and shoes, when the relationship was clear or when it called the relationship into question.  Juxtaposing the images with each other, and then with the words that the person used to describe themselves, brought the relationship between all three elements to the forefront.  Together, they crafted the identity of these twelve individuals.

 

Reflection 2: Composition and Rhetorical Theories of a Single Image

This photograph of a butcher cutting meat has been one of my favorites from the beginning, but it was not until I considered the theories of photography that I discovered why.

It is first aesthetically pleasing because it follows several key theories of photographic composition.  The Digital Photography School advocates the use of various textures for a more appealing quality.  Here, the contrast of the smooth, reflective knife blade contrasts with the rough lines of the hands, calling the lack of clarity in the hands themselves into question.  Knives, with one purpose, are clear.  Hands, with many, are worn down.

We are drawn to the knife because of its difference to the rThe Butcher's Handsest of the photograph.  The knife, in turn, becomes a leading line.  As Photography Mad outlines, leading lines guide the viewer toward the subject and through the photograph.  Here, the curve of the knife blade directs the reader from one hand to the other, drawing importance to both actions.  The viewer sees how the subject holds the blade, with purpose and skill.  The way he holds the meat on the other end of the blade also speaks to his professionalism, drawing attention to the way the hands seem to act all on their own.

And where is the person behind those hands?  By cropping the subject out of the image, I emphasize how the importance of hands has been lost.  Photography Mad explains that the need for cropping arises when “the main subject is so small it becomes lost among the clutter of its surroundings.”  If the photo included a whole person cutting the meat, the viewer would focus on elements that more truly told the story, like his body language or his facial expression.  Not one glance toward the hands, but the whole picture of a person and his story.  In cropping, I narrowed the vision of the reader away from this man’s life.

In addition, the knife symbolizes power.  As Sean Hall, in This Means This, This Means That, explains, through a symbol, the “meaning that is created is related to the nature of the object” (32).  Those who wield knives have control over those that do not.  The butcher has control over that piece of meat, over the way it is sliced and the way someone else will receive it.  The focus of this image seems to reflect this amount of power.  If we follow the knife, we are brought to the hands that guide it.

Yet there is nothing inherently powerful about this image.  Errol Morris, in his book Believing is Seeing, argues that photographs do not make any arguments for themselves.  The arguments come from the ways that the viewer interprets the images: “Images are plastic, malleable, and lend themselves to any and every argument” (217).  They become a testament to the way that the viewer wants to see them.  We want to believe that the hands wield this power.

What is the truth behind this photograph?  Is the butcher empowered by his occupation?  Or is he stuck in a dead-end job, where his hands complete tasks mechanically and with no gratification?

I influenced this perception for the viewer by only showing the hands in a moment of power.  Morris believes that “the minute you select one photograph from a group of photographs, you are doing something very, very similar to manipulating reality” (164).  Here I only showed the deft movements and precise methods, but not the attitude or the emotion.  I created a powerful man by only showing this moment of power.

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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Framing Texts and the Goonies: So is this movie good or not?

I recently stumbled across an article on cheezburger.com that changed how I looked at movies.  This site took well-known movie posters and pasted 1-star reviews from Amazon on them, doing it, as I believe, for the laughs.

But @awfulreviews is also making some pointed arguments about how texts function within images.  Since images allow so much room for interpretation, texts that appear alongside the images direct the viewer on how to interpret the images.

Let’s look at the Goonies poster on this site as an example.  The author of the page chooses two quotes to include on the poster.  The first: “Within the first 5 minutes of the movie there was foul language by the KIDS in the movie, reference to drugs, and a small statue of a naked man with an erection.”  The second: “Unrelentingly loud, roll-your-eyes predictable and never less than obnoxious: the movie equivalent of New Jersey.”

6_ goonies original

The first describes the way the movie is seemingly inappropriate for children: bad language, drug use and sexual innuendo.  All things parents want to shelter their kids from until an appropriate age.  But the review becomes a figure of authority, seeming important enough to be placed on the poster.  The reviewer is a supposed expert that watched the movie and gave an honest opinion.

This is one person’s opinion of why the movie shouldn’t be watched by children.  And children deceptively appear to be the target audience, with a PG rating.  Yet nudity, profanity and violence are all allowed in a PG rated film, and the Ratings Board recommends that parents view the movie before allowing their children to see it.

But who is to say what age the movie was actually intended for?  It could be for adults, with the rating causing some deception.  There are still a number of good values to be learned from the movie like adventure, caring, and acceptance, to be broad, even if the way those messages are received is deemed inappropriate.  A parent seeing this review first would reject watching the movie.  The text guides their way of thinking, even if the poster itself doesn’t suggest anything inappropriate.

The second review assumes a larger-scale analysis of the movie, comparing the movie to New Jersey.  Most people will think of the other shows that idealize New Jersey, like the party-hard lifestyle of the Jersey Shore, the conniving and secretive world of Boardwalk Empire or the dangerous and thrilling one of the Sopranos.  They may agree, from these samples alone, that sure, New Jersey has a reputation and this movie is living up to said reputation.  That being said, the review can be interpreted in different ways based on how much they agree.  People who live in New Jersey, or who have spent a considerable amount of time there, may see the interpretation differently than those who have never visited the state.

So far, the Goonies doesn’t seem like a movie most viewers would be interested in watching.  But would the poster seem different with its five-star Amazon reviews?

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Nothing on the poster itself suggests any of these things, good or bad.  All the viewer sees is an artistic rendition of the main characters surrounded by treasure and an eerie location, and appearing afraid of something out of the view of the viewer.

As Errol Morris, in his book Believing is Seeing, describes, captions in photographs can influence how we perceive them, whether or not we know the truth about the photo.  Captions are simply an “attempt to put the photograph in context” (194), but many points of view may influence that context.  People who didn’t like the movie, that write negative reviews, would frame the movie in a very different context than someone who enjoyed the movie.

Our own beliefs also influence the way we see and analyze pictures.  Even with these negative reviews on the movie posters, if you liked the movie in the first place, more than likely you’ll keep on liking the movie.  You’ll come up with some reason to argue against the text and reinforce your own opinion, passing the review off as “they don’t understand the point of the movie” or “someone just trying to cause trouble.”  The most effective reviews on posters are for the audiences that haven’t seen the movie before – and haven’t heard anything else about it.

So next time you consider watching a movie solely from its reviews, remember that the review belongs to one opinionated person.  The image on the poster itself isn’t making an argument, only the person who wants you to believe them.

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

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

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.

Fallow: A Photo Essay

fallow

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.

When Friends are Marginalized Together

Movie posters reflect the specific genres of the movie that you are about to watch.  Maybe you’re in the mood for a sappy love story, or maybe an insane tale about friends getting to know each other better.  How can we tell the difference between friend movies and relationship movies?

Sean Hall’s concept of Center and Margin gives us an easy way to analyze movie posters and see which relationship the movie is going to be about.  According to Hall, the center of an image is the central focus, where the viewer’s eyes are drawn first, and that the rest of the image is centered around.  The center is the idealized object in the picture.  But something idealized also means that something is not idealized.  These objects are marginalized, less in focus and less significant than the central object.  Every object that is centered creates something that is marginalized.

On movie posters, it is mostly easy to see that the main character is the center focus of the film.  On the Star Trek movie posters, Captain Kirk, played by Chris Pine, is the center and idealized in a couple of ways.  He is in front of his companions Dr. Spock and Uhura, literally closer to the viewer.  He is at the very top of the poster, symbolizing idealization.  He’s also pictured more than once: there’s a tiny second him Kirk the bottom of the poster in the middle of an action sequence.  Kirk is the main character.  Spock and Uhura, important and recognizable enough to make it onto the poster, are secondary characters, revolving around Kirk’s storyline.

Star Trek Movie Poster

Source: Impawards.com

Action movies, horror movies, love stories.  These movies all clearly show who is the most important and who is marginalized.  They show who the movie is going to follow around and who the viewer is supposed to identify with.

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Movies about friends, where the whole point of the movie is building on friendship, are another story.

Movies that are based solely on friendships tend to not have a clear distinction between the center and the margin.  Not that there isn’t a center to the movie poster, but the distinction between which character we should be paying attention to isn’t clear.

If you look at the Hangover Part 2 movie poster, for example, your eyes aren’t necessarily drawn to any of the characters in particular.  All of the characters have this idea of “centrality” about them.  Alan is at the top of the page, where Kirk was idealized before.  Stu, on the left, is almost the most central, and is certainly closer to the viewer because he is higher up off the ground, in the bathtub.  Phil is making direct eye contact with the viewer, the only one that openly faces the front of the poster.  Even if Alan is face up, his eyes are closed, and Stu’s body position is slightly turned away.

Source: impawards.com

Source: impawards.com

Remember that the key ideas for a central image are its location on the page and its orientation to other objects.  The point of view of the poster is from the top-looking down.  The characters are literally subjected to begin with, aligned with your lowered standards because the viewer is in the position of authority.  Plus they’re laying on the floor.  But they are all together in this position.  All three of them are marginalized from the point of view of the viewer, but none of them is a central figure on the poster itself.

The viewer can then conclude that the movie is going to be about the friendship of the three men, each of them equally as important as the next, rather than following the story from the point of view of one man.  Their friendship is the central image – in this case, the center of the triangle that their sprawled bodies create.

Other friendship movies have the same characteristics: a lack of a center and margin, or where all of the characters are central images, or all of them are marginalized images.

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Of course, there are always exceptions that result from clever advertising.  But this is one way that the viewer can see what the central focus of the movie is going to be.