Philadelphia

Phillywaterfront

PATCO in-depth analysis: Philadelphia Waterfront

This is easily the photo I’m most proud of out of the entire essay because it works so well on so many different levels. For this particular photo, I turned the motion blur off since my photos were already being filtered through the window’s rain-encrustedness.

There lies a certain level of symmetry in the photo between the sky and the water; if the image were flipped, they could both pass for one another, given their cloudiness. The depth of field effect also lends to its eye-catching nature. The crescent-shaped waterfront begins in the bottom left at the docks and a boat in view with three talls buildings not too far off for scale. And our eyes also naturally follow the “leading line” along where the water meets land/buildings and brings us to the five tall buildings aligned way in the background. And, lucky for me, the water wasn’t empty that day, and the two boats in the frame serve as balancing elements to the otherwise overbearing cityscape.

Interestingly, the waning landscape trailing off to the right edge of the photo serves so many purposes. Not only does it frame the water on this cloudy and rainy day, but it also frames the sky and the part of the city that is in view from everything else, bridging together and yet separating all these distinct elements. The diagonal lines overlaid on the left side (cityscape dynamism).

Above all else, I think, the photo comes together so nicely thanks to its adherence to the rule of thirds. If divided into the nine equal parts according to the rule, the divisions would appear over the prominent buildings on the vertical lefthand line, and the top horizontal line would cross the photo just where the skyline and the horizon meet. The righthand vertical line and the top horizontal line would intersect at the buildings in the background, and the bottom horizontal line would cut through the two boats on the water, lending a wonderful balance to everything. And, even if it was not by design (as I had no choice but to go over the bridge), the viewpoint also ties into the photo’s beauty. Taken from high above the Delaware River and far away to form the wrapping effect Philadelphia waterfront, I couldn’t have taken this shot (or at least gotten the same feeling from the same objects) from another perspective.

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).

traintrack

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

“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.