morris

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.

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.