photography

Photo Essay: Remaining

I originally posted this to the wrong blog and just didn’t notice for five days.

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I grew up where the ocean meets the Pine Barrens, and if there is one thing to take from growing up in this place is that nature has more power than people often realize. From hurricanes to tree roots slipping through cracks in the foundation of a house, it can be a very volatile place to live.

Often when we think of ghost towns, we think of full towns still standing, left abandoned over time. But it’s hard to have ghost towns here, where the trees grow thick and the weather can be hard. While Centralia, PA still stands in it’s full glory, places in New Jersey like Ong’s Hat, Fries Mill, or Hampton Furnace rarely get to stand, untouched for very long. Which is why I choose to photograph the remains of towns left behind, surrounded by woods, and un-preserved.

My original intention was to photograph a series of places, but poor weather did not permit the far hikes that were required visit many sights. Instead, I focused on one: Weymouth Furnace. Once a forge, than a collection of paper mills, it was permanently abandoned the late 1800s or early 1900s, left in a section of woods that would wreak havoc on the foundations, walls, and roofs of the buildings. While the deterioration process was helped along by a breaking dam early-on, more of Weymouth Furnace remains than most other abandoned town cites in New Jersey. What stands is predominantly foundation, with a few selection portions of walls. The land has since been purchased by the state and turned into a park, but even with attempts as preservation it’s clear the forest is wild and strong, with weeds, flowers, and trees growing strong in the wake of the former industrial cite.

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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.

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: The Distance Between Us

I choose option one for my photo essay, in recording my own series of photos.  I want to look at the physical distance between people as they communicate, from complete strangers to close friends.  I want to capture the body language that we use every day subconsciously, to show how our feelings change our body language.

To do this, I will attend at least one open, public event, like a comedy show or band event.  The people at this location will not feel an obligation to look in a specific direction, like at a performer, as that will effect the way that they stand with each other.  I will photograph all types of people as they go about their regular social activities (hopefully without looking like a creep).  I only want to attend one event because the people there will have a specific interest, say, as one larger social group, and I will not need to worry about standing distances across cultures.

I want to do this project partly out of curiosity and also because I am interested if I do the same things as everyone else.  Or, if there is a significant pattern in the way that a majority of people with the same types of feelings stand with each other.  In particular, how people in love act around each other and their relationship status.

I will use a regular digital camera so that I do not draw attention to myself, perhaps muddling with the clarity of the photo to emphasize the status of the relationship in the photo.  That is, the people in focus will also be in focus, and the rest of the photo will be slightly blurred. I can also try taking the pictures with a disposable camera, if I want a more personal feel.

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.

Celebrity 4 Selfie

UK Girl Group The Saturdays posing selfie-style for Fabulous magazine (Source: The Saturdays.co.uk)

UK girl group The Saturdays posing selfie-style for Fabulous magazine (Source: The Saturdays.co.uk)

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

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

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