PATCO: Photo Essay Analysis

I knew from the outset that I wanted to capture the sensation of movement when shooting for this assignment and reflect the feeling of barreling down train tracks and looking out the window as light distorts the passing scenery. At first, I attempted to use a disposable camera, but after a dry run with it, too many of my photos were obscured either due to motion blur, poor lighting, or both. So, I went through once more with my cell phone in tow using an app called SlowShutter ($0.99 on the App Store). The app offers some neat features, including tapping a part of the screen to focus, timer settings and syncs with the iPhone’s native photo app (which can’t be said of the miserable ShutterSpeed app I tried using before). The feature I relied on most heavily (solely, in fact) was the motion blur slider, which you can set from “minimum” to “maximum.” Because I was already on a moving train, I set the effect to minimum to keep the photos from coming out too blurry.

I wanted to recreate the experience New Jerseyans face when they ride the PATCO to call into question why we seem to gloss over passing through Camden and focus on our destination, Philadelphia. I start at Woodcrest, using depth of field photos of big houses (I love the motion blur on the little kid slide in front of the nearest house) and the blurriness of the Westmont station’s empty parking lot to juxtapose two different kinds of emptiness, quietness, between towns, one of calm and another more somber. And while I considered taking photos of Camden itself, I thought it would be better to just take photos of what one can see from the train because, as Errol Morris wrote in Believing is Seeing, “The whole act of creating a photograph is an act of cropping reality (165).” Yes, Camden is home to Cooper, a well-respected hospital, a Rutgers campus and the Susquehanna Bank Center, a popular concert venue, which are nice, but do not erase the reputation Camden has earned itself locally and nationwide over the years. Because there are glimpses of of urban decay when going through Camden on PATCO, I highlighted those objects to serve as representative of the state of the entire city.

To demonstrate the broken down-ness of Camden, I included photos like the fallen brick building(s?). I find the picture works so well because it is framed by a passing tree on the right and rubble from a standing wall on the left, and it appears as if thousands of bricks are spilling through the frame. How long have they been there? House many buildings did they compose? How do tens of thousands of people pass by them every day and yet no one cares to remove the eyesore? I also wanted to juxtapose the buildings that had graffiti on them with those that did not. For example, the photo I took of the stained off-white building (the pattern even kind of makes it look like it was by design) communicates the same sense of age and abandonment as the tagged walls of old buildings, but in a different way. In another shot, the tagged walls are framed by shrubbery that appear to point toward the graffiti, as if someone had stepped over them and repositioned them to gain access to their canvas.

In crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge, you can almost feel a sense of relief that you’re putting Camden behind you and reaching one of the most historically significant cities in our country. My favorite shot of the essay if of the Philadelphia port, with the Camden waterfront out of the frame. Then, the shot of the 15th / 16th and Locust stop of the lines of the stopped train and the woman stopping by the steps to do her makeup before she leaves the station and heads out onto the street. To contrast with the graffiti seen throughout the ride on Camden buildings, at the 12 and 13 and Locust station is a beautiful, colorful mural on the side of a building, framed by a traffic light and the PATCO signpost. And then, finally, we see the upturned perspective at the tall buildings as you walk back underground at 8th and Market to leave, watching the oncoming bridge traffic blur by as you prepare to zoom past Camden again. As Roland Barthes wrote in “Rhetoric of the Image” ” … the photograph … establishes not a consciousness of the being-there of the thing … but an awareness of having-been-there (278).” Between my frames through train windows, bottom-to-top perspectives of Philadelphia’s tall buildings and motion blur over Camden, I hope to have imparted that consciousness unto those so they can experience it as if they were there (minus the hassle of having to receive change in the form of Sacaqawea coins jingling in their pockets the rest of the day).

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PATCO: A photo essay

Since 1969, the Port Authority Transit Corporation High Speed Rail has shuttled New Jersey commuters to and from work in Camden and Philadelphia. Beginning in Lindenwold, the train carries tens of thousands of passengers every day through South Jersey into the city of brotherly love. Riding the train reveals a lot about New Jersey and its relationship to Philadelphia, but perhaps more importantly to South Jersey’s relationship with Camden, the most crime-ridden, impoverished city in the country.

Though the Ferry Avenue station is above ground,  the Broadway and City Hall stops are underground. After riding along the middle class suburban homes down Haddon Avenue through Cherry Hill, Haddonfield and Collingswood, looking out the windows of the cars shows a stark transition between the rest of SJ and Camden: Dilapidated, graffiti-tagged buildings whiz by on one side, while lots of totaled, abandoned cars line on the other. It’s almost as if, when coming up from the underground and onto the Ben Franklin bridge, passengers are escaping from the dregs of a forgotten city with the promise of Philly as they cross the Delaware River, emerging from one of the stations into the bustling cityscape.

This photo essay demonstrates that journey from the quiet suburbs to Philadelphia through the city every NJ resident would rather not think about. Monday through Friday, the PATCO delivers people to and from work, and on weekends it brings 20 -and-30-somethings to Old City to party in Philly’s budding nightlife scene. Despite living in such close proximity to it and traveling at hmmm mph through it, we don’t really give much thought to the blemish of Camden we consider it to be. The following photos capture that attitude and the glimpses of Camden we only see for a few moments as we’re on our way to our office or to the bar.

PATCO

Sexism and Racism in Sport Ads

While I hate to bring my blog post back to where I work I’ll do it again! Occasionally outside companies bring our department their flyers to hang up. The gentleman who handed me the flyers was tall, muscular, and dark haired.  I won’t name the company of which he represented but the organization encourages college students to join club sports teams and engage in their social parties. I was quickly amused at the company flyers, instantly thinking they were comical. He left and I placed the fliers in my ‘to hang’ bin and went back to my work.

 

A few days past and I hung grabbed that same bin to hang up all the posters for the week. I first went to the community board and grabbed two the company’s flyers. I stopped, thumbtack in hand and looked at them. I became distraught and angry. Instead of wanting to join the business’ teams or having fun at their parties I was disgusted by their image. Each image displayed the confirmation of perceived stereotype. In one hand I had a ‘thick’ aggressive looking field hockey player with her mouth guard sticking out of her mouth and in the other I had a thin blonde turning her back to the camera to show her back dimples and baseball jersey. Just these two images juxtaposed together made me feel as if girls who play these sports come from completely different backgrounds.

“Now you, pick up the field hockey stick and look at me with anger in your eyes. Be fierce, be bold.” I can hear the photographer shout at the mode. The female hockey player showed me a masculine or ’butch’ side of women. Image

And then, there is the sexy baseball jersey wearer showed me how women are used as models. Why would the girl appear to be participating in the sport? 

“Roll up the jersey a bit and turn around but give of us a sultry look. You know what; roll it up a little bit higher.”

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Additionally there were four other images other flyers with different images. One, featured basketball and another, dodge ball and football. These three images really got me thinking. Firstly, I have always thought of basketball to be predominantly African American. In fact, from the 2013 Racial and Gender Report Card: National Basketball Association, “African-Americans comprised 76.3 percent of all NBA players. Eighty-one percent of players were players of color.” I found it odd or misrepresentative that the player featured for basketball was a white male.

The PR department probably mulled that over for hours.

“He can’t be black. We can’t be racists, pick a white male instead. Good character, right?”

He seemed, to my own standards ‘good looking and kind’.

 

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Compared to the basketball player, the dodge ball African American appeared dull and harsh. The man nonetheless wore gloves and held a dodge ball, a sport best related to elementary school. Dodge ball has been notorious for the game to pick on the weak and rally the strong, and game that separates. Ironically, a black male was chosen to represent this sport.

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Then the next male model represented football. This model was ferrous, sweaty, mean, and ugly. His face showed pure anger.

The photographer probably told him, “Squeeze the football like it’s someone’s head.”

Showing me anger and dominance I felt nervous look into his eyes. He was strong and powerful and I being a small, 120 lb woman, would not be able to handle him if he chooses to attack- I felt scared.

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The last image, which was juxtaposed right after the angry football player, was disgusting. Soccer was displayed this time. But the model… she wore no bra, exposing her nipples and her hips bones stuck out of her skin. I don’t mean to say she was overly skinny, but she certainly wasn’t hiding anything. Like the baseball jersey model she exemplified the female body as an object. Her sexy stare into the camera wasn’t one I’d see on a competitive player.

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I was ashamed of these ads, astounded by the sexism and racism by six flyers. At first glance I laughed, but when I really examined them my secret semiotican came out. I decided to only hang up a few of them. I threw out the sexy soccer player, baseball and football player. I places the normal basketball player and on another bulletin board, the dodge ball and field hockey together. I didn’t want to showcase sexy, or rough. I wanted wholesome competitive, sport play. Of what that is now, I am not so sure. 

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.

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.

“Here is Your Garbage” Reflection

When choosing what kind of camera I’d use for my Photo Essay Assignment, “Here is Your Garbage“, I was a bit overwhelmed by the possibilities. Vaseline on a lens? Disposable cameras? Once again, I was forced to consider the technological dimension of composition, and how it is tied to the quality and effect of what I create. I’d have to make a decision that wasn’t based off of mere convenience; I’d have to consider exactly what I was trying to capture, and let that inform my decision on what type of camera to use.

When I decided on taking pictures of trash, I concluded that texture was a huge element that I’d want to capture. I wanted to show trash in shocking detail and texture—from the small pieces of glass blending into the sand, to the countless discarded items stacked in piles and heaps. To capture such detail, I concluded that a DSLR camera would best serve my needs. Using a Nikon D3100, I didn’t feel limited by the touchy focus of a camera phone, nor by the blurry, sharpness-lacking pictures from a disposable camera.

Once I had the camera, I still needed to know what to look for. The landfill, of course, contained a lot of trash. This place was definitely the easiest site to gain material. All over the place were piles of trash—televisions, chairs, tires, glass, plastic, paper. It was grotesque to see trash in such volumes, and capturing it made a powerful punch for my photo essay. But the photos from this place alone only showed half of what I wanted to show about trash. I wanted to show garbage in more mundane, approachable contexts.

I headed into Philadelphia the next weekend to take my last round of photographs. This was after our in-class workshop, so I had a fresh new set of questions and a sharpened critical sense to bring with me. When I got there, there were plenty of trash cans and dumpsters to choose from along with some construction sites with debris that would, as I presumed, get sent to a scrap yard—or perhaps even a similar landfill to the one I photographed the weekend before. It was all great, but I knew there had to be more, subtle things that I was missing. I was, after all, a member of my own audience; I needed to find the ‘waste’ that I and everyone else overlook.

I started looking in smaller places—areas behind the dumpsters in back alleys, potholes, the open spaces in sewer drainages. I found that these smaller places contributed just as much as the epic, voluminous heaps I had been photographing prior. For instance, I walked past the soda can lodged in the sewer drainage bars several times before seeing meaningful and aesthetic value to it. First of all, the diagonal lines of the metal bars served as an aesthetically-pleasing background to the can, which was so perfectly lodged between them. It cried out its own meaning—trapped in a sort of unintentional net from the hidden, underground collection of disposed cans beneath it—an unwanted but inevitable result of our consumption and disposal habits.

It was easy for me to manipulate them in Picasa after the fact. I scrupulously cropped every picture in my Photo Essay, but I also took some editing a bit further. I found that adding sharpness to some pictures intensified the texture. This came in handy for close-up pictures in particular, highlighting every little wear-crack in the shoes on page 16.

Also, adding saturation to my pictures made them a lot more vivid, and even retracted the view from the textures to the colors and text as was effective in some cases. My picture of the “All Natural Clean” container on page 4, for instance, was a lot more dependent on the text on the container than each individual piece of trash behind it. So, by adding saturation to the photo, I shifted the focus to the larger, bolder text—highlighting the irony of the words “natural” and “clean” on a plastic container in a landfill.

Finally, I feel that the soft focus tool in Picasa was fantastic—almost like a semiotic cheat code to bring the viewers’ focus to what I want them to see. In the picture wherein the bulldozer is pushing trash across a pile on page 5, I used the soft focus to direct the reader to the trash that is being pushed. Conveniently, this included an intact chair and what appears to be a suitcase. Now, the viewer can see the trash pile for its parts.

 

 

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