CORE 101 Photography Reflections

This will be the page where I will weekly take several photographs and write my reflections. Stay tuned into my world on this page through the Fall 2014 semester.

Conclusion: Final Shot

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CORE 101 has been one of my favorite classes I’ve taken at USC. And I’m not just saying that because the person reading this is evaluating my blog. And I’m not just saying it to sound nice and nostalgic.

CORE 101 is one of the best classes I’ve taken in my three years at USC because it aligns with all my other classes, thoughts on the world and growth as an individual. From science to portraits then to front page pictures on newspapers and finally settling on selfies, this writing and photography class has challenged me to look at the thousands of pictures I view on a daily basis with a critical eye.

Every photo has a story.

The photograph above was taken on election night. Not a national scale election that many people followed, but instead one very personal to me: USC Daily Trojan Editor-in-Chief election. There were two candidates and one of them was a close friend and former co-editor of mine, Chelsea Stone. We’ve been through a lot together, braving the rigorous and demanding schedule of being news editors and the perils of journalism from the highlights of nabbing an exclusive and getting our writers to respond back to us on a regular basis. This photograph was taken mere minutes after the votes were tallied and it was announced that she would serve as the next editor-in-chief of the 102-year-old student newspaper.

I was so happy for her. And me and my friends being the millennials we are, we wanted to document the moment with a selfie. Yet this photo is special because the DT photo editor captured it with her own photograph.

I feel like this photograph sums up with this entire course was about. Pictures are images that tell story. For each person who looks at a photograph there can be a separate meaning (punctums). For each person the meaning or message of a photograph can change based on memory or experiences that happen after the fact.

For now, this picture conjures up memories of pure joy. I wish this photograph could have run on the front page of the Daily Trojan. But I’m not sure how journalistic that would have been. Or how compelling. Because this photograph might not connect with readers as much as we would like — which is a main concern when deciding what photograph should grace the front page of a newspaper (as we’ve talked about in class).

This photograph is special though. It represents how far photograph has come. From a science to an art, it is constantly innovating itself. And has become a huge source of consumption. I love looking at photographs. In fact, I made this photograph my cover photo on Facebook.

Robert Frank summed up what I’m trying to say nicely: “You can photograph anything now.”

This class has given be the lingo to intelligently talk about photography and the changes it has created in our society. It has given me the creative spirit to take more of my own photographs. It has given me an outlet to express all of this learning I’ve experienced over this semester.

But similar to how Paul Strand thought, I will for the time step away from photography. Strand said, “Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees. You may see and be affected by other people’s ways, you may even use them to find your own, but you will eventually have to free yourself of them.” I want to turn off my critical eye for a bit because sometimes the images can be overwhelming. The thoughts can become too deep. And sometimes I want to just live.

But I know I will return to thinking about photography because as a journalist, a millennial, a human living in the 21st century, this art — this science — will always be with us. And when I return I will know how to document the world I live in more precisely.

And I have CORE 101 to thank for that.

Thank you.

Week Eight: Photography and Memory

Pose 

October 31, 2014 

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In my mind, I am a professional. My favorite show is “Scandal” because of the professionalism of all the characters. Therefore when I know I will be captured in an image I want to exuberate my professionalism.

In the photograph above I am captured a few hours after I have left my internship on a Friday. I am wearing a white suit jacket (similar to Kerry Washington’s character on the hit show “Scandal”), orange shirt and black slacks, wearing my Michael Kors watch with a handbag on my arm. I was built for the workplace.

Yet because the photograph is posed, compared to a candid shot, does this mean it is not authentic? Is this photograph an accurate description of who I am?

While reading Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida I paused to think about the role of posing in photography. As a college student, who is constantly bombarded by the images of other college students on Facebook posing for pictures, such as before a frat party, on the red carpet, wasting away in the library, I do not always think about how a pose can distort the authenticity of a photograph. Yet it is a critical thought to have. Barthes says, “What founds the nature of Photography is the pose” (78). The pose goes to reading the intention of the photograph. For me, the intention in my picture was to come off as a “working woman” who has impeccable style. (I would go on to use this photograph in a picstitch on Instagram for a Halloween post.)

What’s fascinating about this, however, is that about five minutes after I took this photograph I immediately changed into my Halloween costume that made me look the opposite of a professional. Therefore this photograph captured me in a fleeting moment. It is not who I am always, instead it is who I was — when I chose to be this. Barthes said, “For the photograph’s immobility is somehow the result of a perverse confusion between two concepts: the Real and the Live: by attesting that the object has been real, the photograph surreptitiously induces belief that it is alive, because of that delusion which makes us attribute to Reality an absolutely superior, somehow eternal value” (79). This photograph was real. I was being genuine in the photograph, yet it is not an eternal look. If someone would look at and study this photograph years after I passed away, they would think I was a professional person, who happened to be captured in her natural element. But they would not realize I was a college student, who later went out to a Halloween costume party, and shed all traces of a professional look.

Poses are fascinating in photography. They can capture whatever look we’re going for. However, we must realize that when we look at a posed photograph that we have to consider the context around it. This is the identity of the personally solely in the time it was taken. This is not the “always,” but instead it was the “then.” There is a method to poses and they can create scenarios that might not last forever. That is their power and trick.

Studium | Punctum 

October 30, 2014 

10704316_10152575995543303_7841971592383420640_o Halloween is a night for being who we are not. I don’t have a great track record of dressing up for Halloween, but this year I thought I’d take a stab at it and participate in the shenanigans. Based off of our reading of Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida earlier this week I feel like the traditions of Halloween went perfectly to the his point of studium vs. punctum.

I believe all Halloween costumes recreate a studium. They make people interested in looking at what a person is dressed up as. This weekend I saw a wide range of costumes from Wonder Woman to the Flintstones to the woman on the album cover of Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” Barthes describes this phenomenon as “something that has triggered me, has provoked a tiny shock, a satori, the passage of a void” (49). To the viewer this studium, pique of interest, does not have to be significant. For example, when I saw the man pictured above with me, I was intrigued by his outfit. For one, he was almost unrecognizable to me. I knew he was a guy but his dressing up as a female was so thorough. I had to do a double-take. Yet what he was dressed as was not significant to me. (Later I found out he was dressed as a main character from the show “Twin Peaks,” of which I have seen zero episodes of). I did not recognize him. And Barthes says when it comes to studium that is okay.

On the other hand, punctum evokes memories. Barthes describes it as a “detail” that arouses something in someone, whether good or bad. Returning to the picture above my punctum within it is the guy’s blond wig. The wig gave me tingly senses because it reminded me of the wig that Norman Bates wears when impersonating his dead mother in the 1960 film “Psycho.” I haven’t watched “Psycho” in five years and have never seen it all the way through, yet the moment I saw the guy dressed in his Halloween costume it recalled back memories. Like Barthes explains, a punctum only needs to be a minor detail to inform an entire picture. No one will have the same punctum. Yes they can latch onto the same detail but it is sure to evoke different memories. Susan Sontag said, “tall memory is individual and unrepoducible.” This goes to the part that everyone’s punctum will be somewhat different.

When describing the different between studium and punctum Bathes says studium is ultimately always coded while the punctum is not. Throughout the night on Halloween I was constantly presented with studiums and punctums in people’s costumes. I was glad I was able to have read Barthes before venturing out that night. Definitely gave me a whole new perspective on the photography associated with the holiday.

History 

October 29, 2014 

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This past week in class we touched upon one of my favorite discussions regarding photography: its role in shaping our memories. I’ve always told my parents that (as their only child and the youngest grandchild in our large extended family) I feel like I have missed out on so much life our family has experienced. Unlike my cousins who are an average of 20 years older than me, I did not get to know my grandfather in his younger years, I never met some cousins who have since passed on, I did not live near my family when they lived with the rest of family in Minneapolis. Instead my life consisted of growing up in Chicago, geographically separated from the larger Holman family.

My one consolation was the family photo albums that my parents kept. The photo above is one of those photos. It captures a younger William and Tris Holman, moments after they were married. The year is 1982, which you can tell from the tinted coloring of the photograph and from my Uncle Orrie’s Jheri curl in the background. The interior of the church is familiar to me. It raises memories for me because when I visit my grandmother, Mema, down in Springfield, Ill. (the location of where my parents got married), I attend the same church where they were married. The only thing that separates us is the 30 years from when this photograph was taken to now.

In Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, he explains the integral role photography plays in forming our memory and informing our history. Barthes writes, “With regard to many of these photographs, it was History which separated me from them. Is History not simply that time when we were not born? I could read my nonexistence in the clothes my mother had worn before I can remember her. There is a kind of stupefaction in seeing a familiar being dressed differently” (64). Similar to the “Winter Garden Photograph” Barthes hails as being personally significant to him and his understanding of who his mother was before she became his mother. In the same way, this photograph is significant to me.

If I showed it to a friend of mine, or even another family member (perhaps one that attended my parents wedding) they would not care. But because this photograph tells me adds to my perspective on my life — my parents were once young like me and they’ve been together for so long — it lets me glimpse into a life I will never know. But a life that I am a product of.

Barthes continues explaining the role of History in shaping our understanding of who we are now, in the present: “History is hysterical: it is constituted only if we consider it, only if we look at it — and in order to look at it, we must be excluded form it. As a living soul, I am the very contrary of History, I am what belies it, destroys it for the sake of my own history” (65). By me finding importance in this photograph I am disrupting its original intention — to document a moment of significance for my parents and their life. But I am now a part of their life, even if at the time they took this picture I was not. Like we have thoroughly discussed in class over the semester, photographs gain different meanings for different viewers.

Therefore, for me, this picture will also mark the beginning of my parents second part of their life: marriage and the gateway to my childhood. It is the entry point of who I would eventually come. No, I can never associated tangible memories to this day, but in my mind this day is one of the most important ones of my life.

Week Seven: Portraits 

Selfie from the Outsider’s Perspective

October 25, 2014 

10644515_10152561798143303_8933769370559463004_o This picture to the right is probably a site one sees often while walking around a college campus: two girls taking a selfie. I am guilty of this (obviously, I’m in the photo) and all of my friends who are girls are guilty of this as well. In our ever-connected, technology-crazed society, the act of taking selfies has grown exponentially.

But why? 

For an outsider’s perspective — let’s say, oh, my parents — of a generation that grew up not even having a cell phone big enough to put in their pockets, they don’t understand why I need to take a photograph of myself. At the drop of a dime. Anywhere and anytime.

“If you don’t have a photo, it didn’t happen” has become a common phrase among our generation. Everything needs to be documented. Which brings me to my argument that we are losing sight and awareness of what a photograph should be. We have access to millions of photos each day. We are bombarded by images all the time —on Twitter, on TV, on Snapchat.

I took the photo above this week with my friend before our Society 53 meeting. We are dressed up in our S53 outfits because it was the day we were taking our club yearbook photo. So get this: We still felt the need to take a photo of ourselves even though we were already scheduled to take a photo of ourselves. Now that’s snapception for you.

Anyways while we were taking this photograph our friend sitting across from us took a photograph (on Snapchat) of us. It was the definition of a millennial moment. We were all victims to the iPhone’s camera technology. In The New Yorker, Ruth Margalit outlines the idea that people of my generation no longer have respect for where or when a photograph should be taken. I can think of a dozen instances where a celebrity or just an everyday teenager has taken a photograph at a concentration camp, funeral service of [insert any of place that is sacred and solemn]. Margalit writes, t”he pictures have fed a perception of today’s youth as a bunch of technology-obsessed, self-indulgent narcissists.” Now I wouldn’t go as far as calling every millennial a narcissists (though we definitely have some, as does every generation). Instead we are able to more visually show the human instinct to want to see themselves. Since the early days of photography, the technology which morphed into an art was fueled by individuals’ desires to capture moments and places and people and faces.

Like Jean Baudrillard said in 1993, “I am visible, I am image.” Humans have a fascination with seeing themselves. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending how one looks at it) the iPhone has opened thousands of doors for people to see themselves. I have so many different social media accounts where if I wanted I could post a selfie of myself each day, all of pictures different but all of them of myself. Now that’s power and like with other aspects of photography that is democracy.

So let me generation continue to democratize photography by us taking our selfies. Yes they can be annoying, and sometimes overwhelming. I often feel that way. But it is something that before circa 2005 was a rarity.

The real test is to see how long the fad of the selfie will last and, if it doesn’t, what will be the next type of photography to fill its place.

Selfie for the Insider’s Perspective

October 24, 2014 

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I’m not one to take a selfie. I just don’t feel comfortable.

Therefore I related to the Slate article that hailed that credited selfies to building girls’ self-esteem. In her article, Rachel Simmons says girls adapt by learning the language of humble. In society we are not rewarded like boys are for bragging about ourselves, stepping into the lime light or “leaning in” (as much as I appreciate you Sheryl Sandburg). I feel like my discomfort at taking selfies of myself is born from this social construct. Simmons says, “The selfie suggests something in picture form — I think I look [beautiful] [happy] [funny] [sexy]. Do you? — that a girl could never get away with saying. It puts the gaze of the camera squarely in a girl’s hands, and along with it, the power to influence the photo’s interpretation.”

For me the gaze of a front-facing camera came at the end of my freshman year of college. I was late to the game with the iPhone. After years of struggling with T-Mobile (a struggle which I’m currently still in) I finally switched over from an Android to the iPhone 5 in May 2013. Since then I have had access to a camera built for selfies in my pocket. The possibilities for taking photos of myself are endless. I took the selfie picture above in May 2014 — about a full year after I got my iPhone. I took it in a crowd of people. Though I felt a bit uncomfortable at first I ended up liking the act of taking the selfie, but more so, posting it on social media directly after.

For me, a selfie cannot exist without people seeing it. A selfie is meant to be seen. In some cases, it’s meant to validate. I am not a narcissist. I feel empowered that I have access to these sites that can brand me to the entire world. In Psychology Today, Sarah Gervais writes, “Instagram (and other social media) has allowed the public to reclaim photography as a source of empowerment. It offers a quiet resistance to the barrage of perfect images that we face each day.” When I post a selfie I’m thinking, “Yes, I can’t wait for people to see my face and like this photo. I know I look great but don’t feel comfortable saying it.” In that way the old adage rings true, “A picture is worth a thousand ones.” My one push back to Gervais’ statement however is the assumption that each selfie someone posts is the true, unedited essence of them. With Instagram there are a handful of filters that people can use to edit themselves and make their selfies look even more appealing.

But overall for me, the selfie is the opportunity to start the dialogue of myself. With each selfie I take I have the ability to show a different part of who I am. In the selfie above I am showing my wrist that has a wristband to a popular music festival. The viewer can also see my Bohemian style which is a bit different from my everyday clothes. With this selfie I was hoping people could see a glimpse of who I was and “all the fun, amazing things” I do on the weekend. Most importantly, the selfie let’s me show myself to the world. A picture of me by me. As a young adult woman growing in this patriarchy that is one of the most powerful abilities I have.

The Photographers Say

October 23, 2014 

As a photographer it is easy to project one’s opinion onto a photograph. Generally, this is an accepted practice. Throughout this course I have learned to take photographs with a grain of salt. Just like a journalist who practices not inserting their opinion into an article, bias is inherent in the human nature. We can not get rid of it, but we can definitely try our best to suppress it.

From our in-class assignment today I learned that it is extremely easy to take a photograph of someone. To accurately take a portrait of someone takes incredible effort. With a portrait you are attempting to capture one’s essence. Before this assignment I defined a portrait as a staged or posed image of a person focusing primarily on their face. In the picture people are aware of that a photograph is being taken of them. In this photograph of Irene Hu, a junior at USC, I gave her directions while attempting to take her portrait. For this reason I would consider this photograph more of a picture than a portrait.

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By attempt throughout taking her photograph was to capture her essence, or at least the person she was when at USC. When I see her she is usually on the go and on her bike racing off to her next destination. Therefore when photographing her I said to get on a bike and make it seem gallant. The first few pictures she started laughing. I didn’t think she was taking the assignment as seriously as I was. Yet I realized that maybe she didn’t feel like I was truly capturing her essence. Looking back at this experience, as a photographer, I was more focused on capturing the look of any USC student who believes their bike is their best tool — and not Irene. This photograph was not particularly focused on Irene as the main subject of the photograph.

In discussion the other day, someone mentioned that we have to be acutely aware of the subject within a photograph. Oftentimes an untrained eye can believe that the person (or people) in the picture are the main focus, or make of the essence of it. This is not the case, however. Particularly when there is staged photography the subject of the photograph is the person who took it. In this case, I would say I’m the subject of this photograph. I had significant control over staging, positioning and lighting. I told Irene how to smile, which way to hold her face and how to stand against the bike. I even had control in the photo I selected of her to display on this blog. I took about five photographs, but because of my photographer’s discretion, I had the ability to choose this one.

As I study photography more intently I realize that now all can be figured out on first glance. Similar to the importance of knowing the journalist who writes opinion stories in the newspaper, the person who took a photograph is critical to understanding the narrative the photograph is displaying. I find it very difficult to have a portrait of someone without a little part of the photographer seeping in.

Week Six: Minority Photography 

Documenting Disease

October 19, 2014

This week I watched HBO’s “The Normal Heart.” The film documents the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in New York City in the 1980s. It is jarring, emotional and feels real. As a viewer who was born in 1994 — 13 years after the movie is set — the images that the movie provided me became seared in my mind. Over the summer for my Variety internship, I had the opportunity to interview lead cinematographer Danny Moder (the husband of Julia Roberts, who was a star in the film). Moder was responsible for recreating the look of 1980s New York City (World Trade Towers and all).

The readings we did in class this week focused on how photography can sometimes force the viewer to acknowledge a trauma or war situation that they do not want to. In the same way, “The Normal Heart” forced me to relive the time of the initial outbreak of HIV/AIDS in the gay community. It’s something that you read about often. Yet to actually see it is another story. 10662199_10152549436663303_6210444213285492429_o

In her essay “Regarding the Pain of Others,” Susan Sontag says of traumatic photographs, “The photographs are a means of making ‘real’ (or ‘more real’) matters that the privileged and the merely safe might prefer to ignore” (7). Seeing the scars and marks of cancer on gay men who were living with HIV made the epidemic so much more tangible. I was connected with their suffering and pain. When they cried because they felt like they were at the end of their rope and could fight no more, I too wept. Jay Prosser in “Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis” wrote, “The photography of atrocity always involves an ethical crisis of representation. In short and simple form — is it good or bad? Does it bring more benefit or further harm?” President Ronald Reagan did not say the name HIV until 1985, four years after the Center for Disease Control had labeled it an epidemic. Funding for research was small at the time. Thousands of men died.

I feel like the comparison of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s is very comparable to war and the atrocities that we have documented through war photography. For example, HBO advertised the film as taking an “unflinching look at the nation’s sexual politics as gay activists and their allies in the medical community fight to expose the truth about the burgeoning epidemic to a city and nation in denial.” It’s a horrific look, but we must look.

Some argue that war photography should not be shown. What is the benefit in exposing the masses to bloody war fields and dying soldiers? After watching “The Normal Heart” I realize that it’s all the more important to put these images into the world. Though I do not identify as LGBT, personally know someone who contracted HIV/AIDS in the 1980s or someone in the medical community who frequently works with AIDS patients, I easily emphasized. Seeing in most cases is believing. That is the power of photography, and particularly the romanticism of film. I encourage anyone reading this post to check out “The Normal Heart.” I want to hear feedback about the benefit of showing the sometimes gruesome effects of cancers caused by HIV and the successfulness of the film in enlightening people about the disease.

Thanks for reading!

Flagging 

October 16, 2014 

The concept of flags is an interesting one. Throughout this course on writing and photography much of our discussion has focused on representation. This past week our look at race in photography made me think about the significance of flags in representing race.

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Flags have the ability to tell many stories. They can document a whole country’s history (think the 50 stars on the United States’ flag) or they can show a shared history two countries share between one another (just look at the introverted colors of the Puerto Rican and Cuban flag).

I took this photo (to the right) in the VKC courtyard on USC’s campus. I walk through this courtyard everyday that I’m on campus, but rarely take the time to stop and reflect. Today, I decided to stop and snap a photo.

Countries put flags forward to represent their governments, people and culture. A selected mixture of colors, lines and designs somehow summarize an entire country. In my international law class we spend some time discussing the importance of citizens accepting their government, and one way is by recognizing the flag. In the same, when ships are out on the high seas they are required to fly the state’s flag to represent their country.

But how can one flag represent a whole country and its people’s experiences? 

In “The Shadow Catcher,” Edward Curtis sacrificed his life and livelihood to take photos of Native Americans. Several of his photographs have become ingrained in the American public’s ideas of photographs. We think of Native Americans as sage, earthly people who always have a stern look and wear their colorful headdresses. That’s why I really like the photography of Zig Jackson. He turns our perception of Native Americans and what they should look like on our heads. Native Americans can wear Chuck Taylors and go to the grocery store. They are not all confined to reservations. I appreciate the photographers who “flag” other photographers for not fully representing a people through their work. Jackson said, “just because you have a camera doesn’t give you the right to shove it into someone’s face.” Jackson’s quote brings up a lot of questions for me.

Should flags be allowed to represent full countries? 

Who should be allowed to decide what photograph represents what people? 

I think everyone should have a more critical eye when it comes to photography and images put forward as representing a culture, race or nation. Similar to how I ignore the flags every day, I believe a lot of people blindly accept images claiming that they represent the whole. There is just too much diversity to achieve this.

In terms of aesthetics in my photograph above of the flags, I chose to take the photo from an ant’s perspective in order to get the shadow in the picture. I wanted the shadow there to obscure the look of the flags. Hopefully the shadow makes the viewer reconsider the importance we put on flags to represent. Flags’ meanings should not be that clear.

Would love to hear people’s thoughts on this topic.

Actualizing Atrocity 

October 16, 2014 

We had an earthquake drill on Thursday during our CORE 101 class. For a person from a place that there are not frequent earthquakes, the drill was both exciting and jarring. An earthquake! Those are the things you see in movies. Pictures fall to the ground, elevators get stalled and everyone freaks out. Luckily none of that happened — I did say it was just a drill — but it could have!

Well anyways I used the opportunity of our whole class being required to duck under desks to snap some photos for the blog! Below is my personal favorite.

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Professor Flint also had to duck under the table for our earthquake drill. This scenario tied in perfectly with our conversation on representation of atrocities in photography. Many scholars have written on this subject, The New York Times has documented policies about it and lil’ ole me is going to take a stab (oops, no pun intended) on the topic right now on this blog.

Firstly, was it wrong to take this picture of Professor Flint while she was participating in the earthquake drill? She was in a vulnerable position, under a desk, focused on successfully completing the drill. In the same way I was in a newfound position of power. I was able to grab out my phone (a usual no-no in this class) and while she wasn’t looking take a photo of her without her realizing it. Though this was not a real atrocity (there was no real earthquake) there could easily have been a scenario where there was an earthquake and I had the ability to take a photograph of someone in a vulnerable position like this.

As an emerging journalist I believe it’s critical to document atrocities through photographs. For me, seeing is believing. It is extremely hard to emotionally connect with a situation, people or even an idea without some form of image representation. In her essay “Regarding The Pain of Others,” Susan Sontag argues that war photographs are seen through different lens. People bring in their own perspective. She writes, “Photographs of an atrocity may give rise to opposing responses. A call for peace. A cry for revenge. Or simply the bemused awareness, continually restocked by photographic information” (13). In our democracy it’s critical that different opinions are brought into the marketplace. Photography in itself has been a form of democracy. More people with cameras means a wider swath of images and situations being documented. To me, that sounds like an opportunity of bringing more people together. Sontag does push back on this idea about. She is not completely sold on the idea that “pictures cannot fail to unite people of good will” (6). We all just have so many different experiences that go to inform the ways we see things. But we need those different lens.

In Tom Junod’s “The Falling Man” he talks of the push back that the AP photographer who documented a man jumping from the World Trade Tower on the morning of September 11, 2014. Initially, Americans were opposed to newspapers and news stations showing those images. They felt like it pushed the boundaries too much and imposed on the personal space of that man in his final moments — not to mention his family members that might recognize him. The photograph was documenting someone dying, not much different from the Vietnam photogs who were out in the war fields taking photos of the atrocities overseas. Yet these raw photos help to stir conversation and change the tide in public policies and national security. He writes, “They were shown as everything is shown, for, like the lens of a camera, history is a force that does not discriminate.”

I don’t think a powerful device like a camera should have restrictions. We should use them to fully document our experiences. We have the choice to view photos and those who choose to view photos of atrocities will be better for it. These are my beliefs. My experiences are definitely colored by my studying journalism and memorizing the First Amendment, but I’m curious in any differences of opinions.

Week Five: Selective Photography 

“Social Media Select Photography”

I compartmentalize my photographs. In this age of social media, I think everyone does.

Furthermore, I think everyone always has to an extent. We deem where some photographs will be displayed for arbitrary reasons. In Marianne Wiggins’ “The Shadow Catcher,” the character Marianne takes awe at a dying man’s well displayed photographs in his home. She says, “Much as I claim you can’t know a person’s history from a photograph, I still believe the photographs a person chooses to display speak volumes” (Wiggins 279).

This passage shows that though a photograph only captures a specific moment in someone’s life it still encapsulates a larger truth about that person. When people display photographs they are announcing what they find important: family, friends, the championship basketball game they won twenty years ago when they were in high school. The photographs we select to share with people refers to our psyche (did someone say Freud?).

So below I have detailed how I use my different social medias that reach large audiences to share different tiers of photographs that I take on a weekly basis. All of the photographs I’m sharing where taken within the past two weeks.

Snapchat

I use Snapchat to took my low-quality photos of menial things happening in my life, such as pulling an all-nighter in the library or counting down the hours until I get off work. Other times I’ll just snap photos of the school events I’m at to inform my friends where they can find me. An example of that quick transaction is pictured below.

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A picture of me r at the Grand Opening for the new Annenberg building was viewed on Snapchat by 73 people.

Because Snapchat photos are only limited to 10 seconds at the most (or 24 hours if you add it to your snap story), most people don’t rely on taking the best quality photos on this social media. I mean, why would you? It’s not going to last forever. Based on several of our class readings its longevity is the beauty behind photography.

In this photograph to the right I am pictured serving as an Annenberg Ambassador and my friend took a photo of me “fighting on.” There are only 3 seconds left before the picture would have disappeared from a viewer’s snap story. This picture has some artistic qualities because I am framed by the balloons to my right. And the photo even had its own caption that said, “Coolest kid on the block.” This photo was snapped very quickly and gives viewers a look at what was happening in my life at a specific moment in time. I would not say this necessarily defines who I am. I would not consider this a self-portrait.

Twitter 

Then there are some photographs that I take that are deemed worthy for Twitter. I would classify those as immediate, storytelling. Usually these photos are associated with my journalism assignments and red carpet coverage. I would consider it a step up from Snapchat.

A picture I posted along a tweet about volunteering at a journalism class.

A picture I posted along a tweet about volunteering at a journalism class.

Because photographs are not the main focus of the social media photographs are simply an accessory. For this reason, the quality of photographs do not have to be that high.

The photograph to the right was posted on my Twitter account. I took a panorama shot on the balcony of Augustus F. Hawkins High School to have photographic proof of the information I was tweeting about. This photo is associated with the caption: “Had a blast helping facilitate a journalism class at Augustus F. Hawkins High School today.” In this situation the picture is secondary to the text, but I would say that I was attempting to define the high school by this view. Cue Edward S. Curtis status.

Facebook 

The next level of photographs include a post on Facebook. I would describe those photographs as one that you want to brag with but also brand yourself with. When people post photographs on Facebook they are saying this is who I usually am. Happy and involved! People rarely post pictures of themselves that look gloomy or not stressed in their nicest outfits.

There are so many distractions on Facebook with the advertisements and poke wars taking place. Yet the photographs bring everything together. People are reliant on photographs to represent them in their profile pictures and cover photos.

My published article in  the Oct. 7 edition of Variety Magazine received 120 likes on Facebook.

My published article in the Oct. 7 edition of Variety Magazine received 120 likes on Facebook.

The picture about is a photograph I took of my published article and I posted it on Facebook. The picture is doctored. I used a filter and added a green border to frame the picture and make it more appealing to the idea. Because I was posting this on Facebook I was focusing on volume and getting widespread attention for the photograph I was taking. Like I mentioned before we’re constantly vying for people’s attention on Facebook so that’s why I picked bright photos and Photoshopped the original picture to draw people’s eyes to my photo. Also I believe because it was posted on Facebook this photo is now iconic of the article I wrote.

Instagram

The top level of photography on social media — the network that you save your best photos for — is Instagram. Newer than Facebook and Twitter, IG has taken over the photography scene. Specifically because it is was made just as a site where people share photos. When I first got an Instagram I still wasn’t sold on the purpose. Why would anyone just want to look at other people’s pictures?

Kerry Washington and I on the red carpet for the season 4 premiere of "Scandal."

Kerry Washington and I on the red carpet for the season 4 premiere of “Scandal.”

But Instagram embodies all the elements people look to when it comes to sharing photography. Filters! Numerical like buttons! Archives of everyone’s past photographs! It’s all there for you. Perfectly laid out to see the trajectory of the photographs that someone deemed the most important at that point in their life.

I posted the photograph with Kerry Washington and me to the right on Instagram. In the same way as my Facebook picture, I doctored this photo by lighting up my face and adding a border that matches our outfits.

This photo received over 226 likes, and at the time I posted it I knew it would be well-received by the social media company. Because Instagram is purely of photographs I make sure the photos I post sufficiently define my life, such as my work, school and journalism work. Overall, I would consider this last photograph a self-portrait. It is how I want people to see me: working, successful, having a network of successful people and cueing the idea that my success will not end anytime soon.

In this age of social media, each photograph takes on a new meaning and like Wiggins’ argues in “The Shadow Catcher” we are extremely selective about which photographs go where.

“The Un-doctored Documentary Truth”

October 11, 2014 

This week in class we watched “Born Into Brothels,” which was a documentary made by an American filmmaker about children of prostitutes living in Sonagachi, Kolkata’s red light district. The documentary gives us a glimpse into the lives of these children — some seemingly dealing with neglect, others in awe of their parents. But a similarity all the children share is their skill with documenting the world around them. The filmmaker provided all the children with camera. Though an ulterior motive was involved (the filmmaker was in turn able to photograph their mothers), the access to cameras ideally would allow the children to improve their lives by allowing them to share their perspectives.

The camera gave them agency. In discussion this past week we discussed the role of a documentary photography in improving the lot of the people and environments that they record. I found this discussion fascinating. As a journalism major who reports in East LA, South LA and on the Westside in the entertainment industry for various publications, I often have my heart strings pulled on. I get inspired. I get curious about the issue or person on which I’m reporting. Also as a journalist I am sometimes privy to an insider’s view on specific situations and sensitive issues. I sometimes wonder, should I became an activism on certain issues? Should I take a side and stand up for blatant injustices that occur while I’m reporting.

There’s not usually a clear answer. So I continue to interview people, take photos and videos and put it together for publication.

I guess that’s why I’ve always enjoyed documentaries. In its purest essence documentaries present an issue or scenario to viewers by delving deep, doing time-consuming research and social integration and, finally, presenting it to the general public. That’s is a documentarians job. That was Walker Evans job during the Great Depression. That was Zana Briski’s role in “Born Into Brothels.” And most recently, that was Jose Antonio Vargas’ job in his documentary “Documented.”

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Film cover for journalist’s Jose Antonio Vargas’ recently released documentary on his life as a undocumented citizen in the United States.

The poster for the documentary is pictured above. Based off of the advertisement analyses we completed in previous weeks, I quickly was able to conclude that it would be a film about a young boy — who we are to assume is Vargas based on the text of the green card — who does not have proper documentation to reside in whatever country he is in.

The photo picture is one of his — illegal — green card with his photo to the side of it. Because it is an advertisement for a documentary the viewer should assume that this photograph of him is also real, as is the green card. For clarification, I do not think the picture is denoting that the green card is real but that it is actually in his position, regardless of its validity or not.

Throughout the documentary, Vargas maps out his path to America, revelations of his undocumented status and “coming out” about his citizen status to the nation — and the world — in the New York Times Magazine. 

This documentary was extremely interesting because as I was watching I wasn’t getting a definite message of “THIS IS WHAT YOU AS A CONCERNED VIEWER SHOULD DO ABOUT THIS ISSUE NOW.” Instead I felt like I was watching his sob story about how rough it is for 11 million people in the nation who did not come to America in a legal manner. Yes, the immigration system is broken. Yes, many children came here without knowing that they were breaking the law. Yes, there’s so much debate about what we should do about this issue that it’s hard to make ground. But as a documentarian I feel like Vargas used the film— the power of images — to show the world through his lens. He clearly took a side by selecting the clips that he used in the films — such as one of an interviewer referring to him as an “illegal alien” and him looking defeated.

Therefore documentaries, which are suppose to show unfiltered truth, are very controversial. They inherently have a bias because the filmmaker wouldn’t take on the project without being passionate about it for some reason. My conclusion is that documentary more so than photography as an art actually is more biased.

Would love to discuss this further with anyone who is interested.

Week Fourth: Photography & Truth 

“Building Scenery” 

October 3, 2014

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A view from Los Angeles’ Runyon Canyon.

Sometimes scenic sights are invaded by the built environment.

In class on Thursday our discussion about the American landscape really struck a chord with me. I have lived in two major cities my entire life. By growing up in Chicago and now living in Los Angeles, gardens and open space are a rare commodity. In a metropolis you’re constantly surrounded by people and your space is limited.

Therefore I think that’s why I assume nature is equated to loneliness and vastness a sign for danger. Until I traveled to Runyon Canyon off of the 101 freeway today.

Sometimes nature does evoke a sense of loneliness: “All around me there was nothing but uninterrupted space for as far as I could see, this single thread of road tethering me to what I knew, to where I’d been, where I was going” (Wiggins 169). Yet in “The Shadow Catcher” and through the photographs we analyzed in class, I see that nature can also be welcoming. It’s all about perspective.

In class we discussed WJT Mitchell’s take on landscape and photography. Mitchell said, “landscape is a natural scene mediated by culture.”Before I moved to California I had my idea of the West and the Final Frontier. Everything was going to be very rustic and dry like a desert. But it wasn’t until I was able to experience it for myself. Nature — though it can be represented through photography —must be experienced for oneself. One responds differently to a landscape differently when they are writing about or are familiar with it.

In the same way, I am learning to write about the American landscape differently now that I have seen it myself.

I also find it interesting how we disrupt nature with our built environment. Los Angeles is a prime example. The city around us is not what the West looked like in the days of Edward Curtis. For this reason, I believe our society is started to build myths around nature — because it is becoming such a foreign concept to us. Wiggins writes: “Give me a place to stand and I will move the Earth. If I was higher, I could see a longer distance, I figured. See a human, maybe. Something to enforce the myth of I, the myth of who I thought I was that day, the myth of day, itself; the recurring human myth of time” (170). To be in touch with ourself it seems like we have to be surrounded by nature; nature alone cannot do that.

I can’t wait to further discuss the relationship between nature and the human psyche. It is an interesting concept I want to keep discussing.

Photography and the American Landscape” 

October 2, 2014 

Home, home on the range/ Where the deer and the antelope play/ Where seldom is heard a discouraging word/ and skies are not cloudy all day

This song probably evoked some memories while you were reading them. They did for me. And they’re suppose to. As someone who has lived in the United States her whole life the idea of the Final Frontier and its majesty has been hammered into me since my elementary school years. The West was a desirable destination, we were thought. It held untold riches, we were told. Yet it has a twisted history.

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I am not from the West. Instead I am from the landlocked Midwest — Chicago to be exact —where the ideal values of family, humbleness and the all-American accent reign supreme. These past two years in college out in Southern California has been one large exploration (especially now since I have a car!) That’s why Marianne Wiggin’s “The Shadow Catcher” is such an exciting read for me. As she explains the Southern California region with such precision I feel like she is detailing my experience at discovering this area.

At times when Wiggins describes the West, her description is infused with admiration and a great sense of history: “One of the draws of living in the West is the lure of these dramatic landscapes, the pull of these wide-open spaces evoking narratives of ancient geologic time, narratives of passage, disappearance, death; persistence” (13). There is history behind each landscape, and particularly in the West the sense of Native American spirit is strong.

I took the picture above while driving along the PCH from San Francisco and back to Los Angeles.The scene was reminiscent of the descriptions Wiggins has in her novel. It is ideal. Similar to our class discussion on Thursday with our American landscape, Americans are attracted to scenic images. Because it’s unfamiliar to what we see on a daily basis. It gives us a different outlet to see the world.

Therefore I feel a special connection to Wiggins novel because like her character I am constantly traveling. By traveling I am discovering the country and furthermore myself. It amazes me how much landscape can connect us to ourselves. That’s probably why tourism is so strong in the country — we want to see what we don’t know to further discover the aspects we don’t know about ourselves.

Photography. American landscape. Ourselves. They’re all connected. I’m learning that more and more as I make my way through “The Shadow Catcher.”

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Orrin Holman looks at the gravesite of his father Robert Holman, who died on Jan. 1, 2013.

“Photography & Prose” 

October 2, 2014 

Memories: A Poem

Today, I bring newly cut red roses as my peace offering. The whistling wind whips at my face as I nervously walk up to you.

“Please forgive me,” I plead. “I should have never let you go.”

You say nothing so I lay the roses on your tombstone and leave this conversation for another day.

****

While reading “The Shadow Catcher” by Marianne Wiggins this past week I discovered a fallacy that most readers have while reading novels that have photographs in them. Truth: We become lazy readers when photographs are associated with text. From our youngest years of reading we are told to associate the pictures near the words to the overall meaning of the story (think children’s picture books). As we get older newspapers with the pictures next to them fill the void of elementary children’s books. When I look at pictures in the newspaper, I personally, never read the captions because I assume that it aligns and is supposed to enhance the story I just read.

Yet then you have authors like Wiggins who play off of readers’ assumptions and picture-association. The poem I wrote above placed alongside the photograph of my Uncle Orrie standing near my grandfather’s grave are not associated with one another. In fact, the photograph was taken a full year before I penned this poem. I did not even have the image in mind when writing it. Wiggins played this same kind of trick on the reader on p. 25 while she was describing the life of Edward Curtis and his later years. Then in the text the reader sees a picture of an older man. I assumed it was a real picture of Curtis as did the majority of the CORE 101 class.

This scenario of finding out that a picture did not represent the prose around it was troubling. For one, I felt like I had been tricked. Secondly, I felt silly for putting so much hope and faith into a photograph. It is not until you have had the wool pulled over your eyes that you realize how much power a photograph has. Which, by the way, I feel like is a side objective of this whole class: Knowing and realizing the power of photograph in our everyday life.

Wiggins consistently plays with the reader’s mind, pushing us to open our eyes to the trickery within photography. She infuses the presence of doctored photos throughout the novel: “I show her a print of two Piegan braves seated in their tipi with a prized clock between them; and then I place Curtis’s preferred version of that print, the one he published, next to it. The clock has been erased, manipulated in the darkroom” (Wiggins 22). I liked this passage because it evokes the scenario of Walker Evans’ moving clock controversy, which we learned about last week. But it also reminded me of our affinity towards believing photographs that make sense to us. Some photographs are doctored to maintain our assumptions about a certain group of people, such as the Native Americans and their rustic living style. Wiggins continues by writing, “My point is these photographs have been constructed for a purpose. An artistic purpose, yes — they’re beautiful to look at. But they’re lies. They’re propaganda” (23).

Always have a critical eye. Don’t let the wool get pulled over them.

My largest takeaway from this week of reading about photography in fiction is that even when you have a photograph in front of you, you need to do your research. Be a critical thinker when it comes to photographs and the images you consume.

Week Three: Photography & Narrative 

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“The Mystery of PhotoShop”

September 27, 2014 

On Saturday, I went to cover a basketball game in South El Monte for my digital journalism class. I spent the day there taking photographs of the players, interviewing the coach and enjoying the atmosphere of high school sports. I obviously took several photographs to accompany my journalism assignment and above I have shared one of the photos.

What do you see when looking at this photograph? 

Take a moment. Let it sink in. Guess a few times. 

Got an answer yet? Okay, good. 

Regardless of what story or scenario you think you saw — you’re wrong. I am openly admitting to doctoring this photograph. You are looking at a somewhat photoshopped picture. I lightened up the girl’s face because from the angle I took it it made her have a shadow.

The fact that PhotoShop has entered our lexicon shows the prevalence of the act of manipulating photographs. According to Mia Fineman the definition of a manipulated photograph is “the final image is not identical to what the camera ‘saw’ in the instant at which the negative was exposed.”

Because I explained that this photograph is attached to a journalism assignment did it change your understanding of the picture and what it was supposed to be? In our society we have decided that photographs in journalism represent truth. Just think about Walker Evans and the moving clock and the cow head. Society was so enraged with the fact that he slightly moved these objects because he did not photograph the world in the way that he initially saw them. He altered it. Before they alter a photograph, Errol Morris said that photographers consider if “the realism was deliberate, calculated and highly stylized.”

In her essay, Fineman goes on to explain the phenomena of photojournalism. She writes, “The process of making a photograph of translating the constantly changing, full-color, three-dimensional world into a flat, static, bounded image — involves dozens of conscious and unconscious decisions, form the moment one picks up the camera through the distribution of the final image” (Fineman 6). And at the receiving end of journalism, viewers will take the journalist’s interpretation of the world as truth. As humans we try to make narratives because it’s our human nature to use our experiences to explain.

Yet this week during class discussions I was very much troubled. As a journalism student who’s life is constantly spent working on a story, pitching ideas, going out in the world and documenting it through my words and with my camera, I found it difficult when people said it wasn’t fair how journalists could bring their bias into their documentary work. I personally feel that I am not being bias, I am just presenting the world in the way that I feel viewers can best consume it.

Yes I doctored this photograph. I lightened up the girl’s face because from the angle I took it it made her have a shadow. But that’s all I did. I didn’t put extra money in her hand to make it appear that she was stealing. I didn’t tell her to smile and look happy. I didn’t even tell her what the assignment was for. I simply said I’m going to take a few photos of you.

Therefore I sympathize with Walker. It is a difficult task to show people the world through photographs. Yet once you start altering reality that is the moment you start making holes in your credibility. But then again by lightning this girl’s face did I actually change history? Can my photograph no longer be used as historical evidence that on this day, at this location, she was collecting money. So I guess this blog post is about my understanding of the role of a documentary photographer and my confession to using Photoshop for journalistic ends.

I wonder what Evans would say about me? Or even better — Morris — who would surely offer up criticism.

“Cindy Sherman” 

September 26, 2014 

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Photograph by Cindy Sherman.

This week’s lesson in narrative photography branched off nicely from last week’s conversation on photography for advertising. To me, these subjects fit well together because they were both staged photography that elicited feelings from the reader.

Like we discussed in class, we as viewers react differently when we know a photograph of a scene was staged and is not meant to be truth. Yet it gets really murky when we can’t tell the difference. I really enjoyed looking at Cindy Sherman’s photographs in class. When I went home and continued to do research on her, the one pictured above caught my attention. Narrative photography is very interactive. It invites the reader to bring their experience in to inform what they’re seeing. Sherman’s contemporary Gregory Crewden described narrative photography well by saying, “it’s like a story is forever frozen between moments.”

When I look at this photograph I imagine that a housewife whose husband requires her to dress up and wear heels while she is cooking is being worn down by the unrealistic expectations. She is turning around with that exasperated look because her two twin toddlers are screaming at one another and throwing food — making a huge mess over the spotless kitchen that the housewife has just cleaned the day before. Because of the intense pressure she has plotted to poison her husband’s food. That is how she will put an end to it all. The bottle of poison is disguised as the Morton salt shaker.

Now when you look at that photograph you could be seeing something completely different. Yet Sherman is known for her work in photographing women in stage positions in the late 20th century. Sherman’s work pushes towards a range of female characters with extreme fashion and within the Reagan-Bush era, according to Miles Orvell in his essay “American Photography,” her intent was on picturing an opposing, nightmare vision to our “commercialized garden of earthly delights.” Reading this made me then think even in narrative photography the photographer has agency and an intent. Yet unlike in journalism where I feel there is a more clear-cut meaning in a photograph (i.e., this is a fire burning in this place at this time), narrative photography is an artistic and political release for both the photographer and the viewer. We both get a chance to interpret and make statements. Therefore, to me, narrative is one of the greatest exchanges in the art world.

Though inauthentic and not always representing reality as we interpret it narrative photography definitely tells a story. And because we receive it so well and want to tell our own stories I believe it has really tapped into the human psyche.

“Untitled (Studying)”

September 23, 2014

This past week’s conversation on narrative photography meshed so well with my understanding of and interest in journalism. Particularly talking about why humans put so much faith in the truth of photographs made me excited to continue learning about narrative photography.

Why do we want to interpret truth in photographs? 

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The photograph above is staged. It is my attempt at being Cindy Sherman.

Yet what story do you see when looking at it? 

I see a girl who is studying late at night, completing homework but feeling overwhelmed. So she picks up a knife and starts attacking her homework. Because this is around midterm season it’s a logical picture…right? Since photography has entered the public realm in journalism we have begun to receive photographs as truth. In Mia Fineman’s essay “Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop” she says as photography began being used not only for science but for art in the late 1860s people had a “renewed confidence in the ideal of authenticity and documentary truth” (19).

Yet when I present a photograph like this— dark, behind the back, full of rage — why does the viewer start making up narratives instead of asking questions?

I think it’s because we want to tell a story. We want pictures to make sense. When we can explain what we’re seeing then we are able to feel content with what’s happening in our world. It’s a strange balance: we want to be presented with truth but we’ll also try to reason what we know is false.

I took this photograph so I know what my intentions were yet as a viewer you don’t know how detailed I got. It’s similar to in class when Professor Flint said when she was a young professor she worked with a poet who said he loved critics because they read so much more into his poems and meanings than he was intending. It makes him feel smarter. So maybe why narrative photography is so attractive is because it makes photographers feel more intelligent. If you found any alternative meaning in this photograph it definitely makes me feel smarter.

So, the girl in this photo is not using a knife to kill her homework. But we want to believe it’s truth. We bring our experiences into the pictures we view. So in this case, looking at this photograph of this unidentified girl, we make sense of it because maybe secretly we all just want put an end to our homework during midterm season.

Week Two: Photography & The Body 

“Agency in Advertising”

September 21, 2014 

Marilyn Monroe will live on forever in the mind’s of Americans. The blond bombshell died in 1961, a full 33 years before I was born, but that has not stopped me from being bombarded with images, stories and movies about her.

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Marilyn Monroe on the cover of Life Magazine from Oct. 1981. Picture taken at an antique store in South Pasadena on Sept. 20, 2014.

All of this is possible because of the durability of an image. And the power of a camera. Even today as I write this blog post on her, BBC News reported that a rare negative image of her from her first photo shoot when she was 20-years-old was sold at auction today for approximately $7,000.

Society’s attraction to Monroe’s image reminds me of the lyrics from The Who’s “Pictures of Lily” where the son hangs up a photograph of Lily Langtry who was a pin-up girl at the turn of the twentieth century. When the son asks the father how he can meet Lily the father scolds his son by saying, “Son now don’t be silly. She’s been dead since 1929.” The son then responds by crying and saying that her picture makes him feel wonderful and helps him sleep at night. The image of a woman can be powerful. It infuses the sense of desire that comes with the white gaze male.

In the same way, Langtry attracted men, Monroe did the same. What I’ve always found interesting about her life, however, is that despite the wide circulation of her images I’m not exactly sure what her thoughts on her as a sex symbol are. I’m not aware of any essays she wrote on the topic. The general public is largely left with her pictures and film work to decipher who she was as a person. But as we’ve been discussing in class with “Bellocq’s Ophelia” and feminist essays, photographs have their limitations. They cannot reveal whole stories, as best as they try. A photograph can only reveal who the best was at that moment. Not really so much before or after. It’s an interesting dichotomy when looking at photographs of people who have passed.

The magazine cover from Life that shows Monroe in the classic female pose — back arched, eyes fixed somewhere off the camera, and a wide smile for men to get aroused with – was distributed twenty years after the actress died. A full two decades after her death and she was still making the covers of magazines! That in and of itself is interesting.

Begging the question: “Does a person have any agency when we take a photo of them and distribute it?”

Since moving from the scientific realm to the advertising realm, photograph has morphed into an art that is constantly vying for the viewer’s attention. In Terry Barrett’s “Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images,” she quotes Gran Fury by writing: “People are influenced by what they see. Public images and public words, from advertising to the arts, are groupings of cultural ideas. Art is only important to us insofar as the techniques of art help to attract and hold the viewer’s attention” (202).

Monroe has effectively caught our attention. She had sex appeal, she was charismatic, beautiful, and most importantly, was able to display that photographically.

John Berger further explores this idea in his essay “Ways of Seeing Things.” There is a thin line between classy sexuality and the sexuality that we find inappropriate for advertising and large distribution. As a whole, our society has decided that Marilyn Monroe toed the right side of the line. Referring to how woman are able to express their sexuality through their image, Berger writes, “Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, expressions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste — indeed there is nothing she can do which does not contribute to her presence. Presence for a woman is so intrinsic to her person that men tend to think of it as an almost physical emanation” (46).

And so we have continued to gaze at Monroe and draw from her image. Berger writes, “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. Thus she turns herself into an object —and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”

With this analysis I would say that Monroe does not have agency over her own photographs. Though she probably took all these photographs from the photo shoots with her consent, we have repackaged the for our own uses. We have gleaned meanings and messages from them that may have been unintended. Just think — LIFE put her on the cover of their magazine twenty years after she died! When thinking about how women are depicted in advertisement it is hard not to look towards Monroe.

Berger concludes his essay by saying that in today’s society our attitudes and values which created the standard for sex appeal have loosened up. We can thank the rise of advertising, journalism and television for this. And I guess we should also thank Marilyn Monroe for helping us set the standard as well.

“The Strong Stance”

September 20, 2014 

It is very rare to see an advertisement that promotes women. Yes there are advertisements that try to entice women with products. And there are advertisements that use women to sell products. But it is very rare for an ad company to use a women — in her many different forms, dispositions and personalities — to attract a large audience. With this thought in mind I spent this week looking for the opportunity to capture a women confidently standing in a strong posture.

Finally on Saturday while working for Variety on the red carpet celebrating Shonda Rhimes’ three shows on ABC this coming fall, I was able to find the picture I’ve been seeking.

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Actress Viola Davis on the red carpet for her new show “How To Get Away With Murder.”

Viola Davis is two-time Oscar nominee who has acted in a slew of movies. This fall marks her first time as having a recurring role on TV as a lead character. She is well-respected in the industry. Yet when other actresses have this long pedigree of accomplishments they are not always photographed in the way she is. Part of it is that she is a black woman. Another part is that with her latest role, unlike her other roles, she is suppose to be a woman in power and running the shots. Therefore in her photographs she needs to be seen with a strong stance.

And here she is: Standing erect with her hands on her hips, looking straight on to the camera (the one that was filming her, not mine) with closed clips and making direct eye contact.

This look is a far cry from the Vogue magazine covers we analyzed earlier in the week. Those magazine covers showed Drew Barrymore and Beyonce Knowles as more docile and classical, even though touting them as “real women.” Their backs were not erect, instead they were poised in contorted ways — ways most women wouldn’t normally stand. On the hand,  Davis is standing how I often stand. When talking to people I’ll have my hands on my hips and do the best to make direct eye contact with the person I’m speaking to. Because Davis has recently gotten criticism for being intimidating in her new role and in the advertisements that the show is promoting, this is a good sign that her stance is an anomaly. People are not use to it, especially Alessandra Stanley from The New York Times. 

The fact that people assume Davis is a more intimidating person than say Barrymore of Knowles intrigues me. When I talked to Davis’ co-workers on the red carpet they had nothing but glowing compliments to give her. Several people called her “maternal” and “caring.”

Therefore it is a reminder of the power photography has to depict women and how easily it is for society to make their assumptions based on how women look in photographs. In Terry Barrett’s essay “Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images,” she makes the argument that photographs merely scratch the surface of a person so they cannot be taken as complete truth. Barrett writes, “traditional documentary photography is based on (false) assumptions that the photograph represents a one-to-one correspondence with reality.” She adds, “photography deals with surface appearances, and surfaces obscure rather than reveal the actual complex social relations that underlie appearances.”

Yes, Davis will appear in photographs and on TV has a high-power, cut-throat law professor teaching people “how to get away with murder,” but we cannot associate that image with who she is. Barrett shows that because photographs are merely a snapshot of a single moment they do not have the ability to extrapolate in the full story of a person. It would not be giving a person their full justice.

In Hollywood and the entertainment world, images do carry great weight. But now thinking about how advertisement work to persuade and photographs work to depict, I will have a more critical eye in discerning the complexity of celebrities. Particularly how women are displayed. Also kudos to Viola for helping me expand on my thoughts.

“Greenlighting the Gaze” 

September 16, 2014

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I took this self-reflexive picture to open up a conversation about the power the white gaze has in shaping photography.

I am fascinated by our in-class conversations about how the male gaze shapes the photographs we see. It’s simple historical math: When the majority of the people with access to cameras so they can experiment with light and positioning are white males most of the fundamentals of photography will be seen in their image.

It’s a simple concept — the one with the camera has the power. As a journalism major I understand this. The one with the pen — me — has the power. It’s in the same vein that politicians have the power to regulate our lives through the legislation they choose, cooks in the ingredients with which they make our food and parents in the chores they assign us. The one with the power shapes the way we live our lives. In for our class, the photographer has the power when it comes to the images we see.

Who am I in the photograph above? 

The topic of the white male gaze also greatly interests me because I am a black woman. Though not of mixed race like poet laureate Natasha Tretheway, who wrote “Bellocq’s Ophelia,” I connect with the language she infuses to describe the thoughts black women have when being photographed by a white man. Bellocq is trying to capture the women’s beauty, yet also has the power to shape it as he sees fit.

Who shapes our self-portraits? 

In the poem “March 1911,” Tretheway writes, “I could lose myself/ then, too, my face — each gesture — shifting/ to mirror yours as when I’d sit before you, scrubbed/ and bright with schooling, my eyebrows raised” (20). The woman Tretheway paints with her words talks about “losing” who she is when she tries to “mirror” the actions and desires of white people. Oddly enough it is the actions that allow her to win favor with white males, are the same ones that result in her losing touch with who she is.

Tretheway gives the black women license and authority to their own thoughts, which in and of itself is a statement. However, they don’t control how a viewer will see their picture. The viewer photograph will only remember the women through Bellocq’s lense. Without their own written words — which Tretheway tries to restore through the poems — we only have the photograph to memorialize them.

I was truly touched by Tretheway’s poems. The research that went into trying to understand why E.J. Bellocq captured some of the prostitutes is fascinating. Though there will always be debate about Bellocq’s intention and reasoning for capturing the mixed-race women has he did because he did not leave behind written work, I believe his photographs were aimed to be portraits. In the same way my photograph above with me pictured in a maroon dress with a mountain lion, hidden behind green leaves aims to be a portrait. It is who I am at the particular time the photograph was taken. Overall, this showed me the strength in words when it comes to photography.

Who am I in the photograph above? 

Similar to most photographs of women in the early days of photography, my photograph aligns with a picture made for the male gaze. In his essay “Ways of Seeing Things,” John Berger notes the characteristics of women’s faces in photographs made to appease the white male gaze. The woman is often looking longingly away from the camera as is the case with my portrait above. Berger writes, “It is the expression of a woman responding with calculated charm to the man whom she imagines looking at her — although she doesn’t know him. She is offering up her femininity as the surveyed” (55).

Because photography has morphed into an art that supposedly shows truth, photographs have the power of memorializing people as the photographer sees fit to show them. Tretheway writes, “Now I face the camera, wait/ for the photograph to show me who I am” (21). When it comes to a person whose race and gender are consistently questioned and manipulated, the camera that supposedly shows truth, ultimately defines who they are as a person.

Though earlier I claimed that the picture above is a self-portrait, I do not believe that it defines me. Yet, without any context or written words to back up my picture which captures my image, I am similar to the women Bellocq photographed. I am only known based on my surroundings, race and gender. Yet, by sharing this picture with the world I am giving authority for people to view it through their own lens.

That is the interesting aspect of photography. Who actually has ownership for our own self-portraits? I’m sure I’ll keep returning to this question again and again. Please stay tuned.

Week One: Photography in Motion

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“Free Wheeling” 

Continuing on my photographs that have to do with motion…

I was walking around East Los Angeles Saturday afternoon, taking in the sites of the unfamiliar neighborhood, when I ran across this bicycle. It caught my eye because it was not situated as a bicycle usually is: right side up, locked to a rack or with any owner nearby to ride it.

Because of its uniqueness I stopped and snapped a photograph of it. I used the camera on my iPhone.

The bicycle couldn’t have been unattended for long. The front wheel was still spinning. I thought to myself, “I’m going to capture the wheel as it spins. That’s going to make for a great picture.”

So I snapped the photo. No wheel spinning. No movement.

I liked this photograph because it was difficult for me to capture the movement within it. Unlike Eadweard Muybridge, the pioneer of photographic studies in motion, I could not show that this bike wheel was moving. It was a reminder that photography is foremost a science and not a medium. I did not have access to the proper light or shutter photography — which reminds me I’m excited to get into the conversation about flash photography later.

My lack of resources and knowledge of how to capture motion in a photograph reminded me of a passage from Geoffrey Batchen’s “Each Wild Idea.” On pg. 155, Batchen wrote,  More specifically, the substance of an image, the matter of its identity no longer has to do with paper or particles of silver or pictorial appearance or place of origin; it instead comprises a pliable sequence of digital codes and electrical impulses.”

In short, we have democraticized photography and put a digital camera into some many people’s hands that the science behind photography is becoming lost. The average person (me) doesn’t even know about the light and how to show that the bike’s wheel is moving in the photograph. Similar to politics, with democracy there comes apathy.

I’m glad I ran into this roadblock with my photography early on. I needed to realize I didn’t know how to take solid photographs. I am still picking up on the power of light in make a picture materialize. I’m still trying to categorize names of photographs and their contributions to the field.

Yet this photograph has potential. It has strong attributes. The rule of thirds is definitely in play. The bicycle takes up two-thirds of the picture while the woman walking in the background is in one-third of the photograph. The color schemes of the objects and subjects are also similar. For example, the woman is wearing a red jumpsuit while the wheels of the bike are red as well as the red wall.

Batchen went on to say, “”The old, familiar distinctions between reality and its representation, original and reproduction, nature and culture — the very infrastructure of our modern worldview — seem to have collapsed in one each other.” I agree with him. Yet its moments like these and class assignments like these that remind me that there’s so much more that goes into taking a photograph.

As I move forward in this class I can become more critical of the process. And, possibly, the next time I come across an upside-down bike with a spinning wheel, I’ll be able to capture its full essence.

“Objects May Be Closer Than They Appear” 

September 13, 2014 

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Photography was born from the mother of necessity. In photography’s case, the necessity was the need to see ourselves. As our discussion during the third week of class showed me photography leads to self-awareness and our ability to reflect on our own humanity. Never before could a person’s likeness be captured so accurately. Before people had to rely on the artist’s eye to capture us in a portrait.

Since the science of photography has evolved we now have so many ways to capture our likeness, motion and a single moment. Therefore I wanted to take on the challenge of capturing movement in a single moment. Luckily for me in Los Angeles cars and people are always on the move. I took the photo to the left while sitting in my car and snapping a photo of my side mirror as a bus (with a very scary face) zoomed pass me. The car that appears in the side mirror behind me is about to pull out of its spot and drive away. This photograph makes good use of lines and reflection. It is almost as if the scene in the mirror is superimposed on the larger photograph — essentially telling to different stories while being contained in one photograph. Everything is moving in this picture, yet similar to the “Falling Man” photograph that is discussed below, you see motion stalled in time. We know what happens before and after this photograph. The bus will leave the frame, driving off to its next stop and the car will pull past me. The road with its discolored lines will still be there. As will the trees and blue sky in the background.

Also this pictures reminds me of the importance of light and mirrors in creating images. I must always remind myself that first and foremost photography is a science that has evolved into an art form. The only way I was able to capture this picture so poignantly was through science. The way the side view mirror is curved makes objects appear smaller than they seem when they’re approaching my vehicle. That’s why several cars in the U.S. have a warning on the mirrors that read “objects may appear smaller than they seem.” This warning fits into the picture very well because in addition to the objects behind me that are smaller than scale (and possibly could cause more danger to me than expected), the advertisement on the bus is very frightening and also look dangerous.

The caped figure with a grey face that looks like he should only be allowed out each year on Halloween is relatively small but on the side of a moving bus he has the ability to cause me and my car great harm. Imagine if I would have just pushed my car door open into his face (the bus)? I would have been one car door down.

For this reason, photography can capture truth as well as distorted reality. That’s why I want to push back on many of the statements we make in our class: photography is the science of showing things how they are in the world. Portraits are too reliant on artistic expression; photography is truth. Yet, in this picture I took above, photography is not a sure-fire way of depicting how the world is. It really makes me think that we should always maintain a critical eye towards photography. We must question and understand the science behind why photographs are as they are. Because we might find out in some photographs that “objects are closer than they appear.”

“The Falling Man”

September 11, 2014.

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Today marks 13 years since the country laid eyes on the images that changed the world. I was seven-years-old when two planes struck the World Trade Center in New York City. At the time I had never been to the nation’s largest city, heard of the World Trade Center or knew the word “terrorism.”

Each year my memory of the day’s exact events get a bit more blurry. I was seven-years-old then. I’m 20-years-old now. Yet, some memories — mostly images — remain extremely clear. The “Falling Man” photograph is one of them. This epitomizes the power of photography.

Associated Press photographer Richard Drew took this iconic photograph on Sept. 11, 2001 at 9:41:15 a.m. It was just moments after a plane flew into the World Trade Tower. I was not there to witness it, but this photo captured a poignant moment in U.S. history.

It has all the quality of a strong photograph. It makes use of vertical lines and light. The man is situated between the middle of the two sides of the building — the light side and the dark side. He is face down and his face is not immediately recognizable. Therefore the “falling man,” who is a man who has jumped to his death to escape the almost inevitable death he would have faced if he stayed in the burning buildings, seemingly blends in the photo. He becomes a consequential line in the aesthetics of the photograph’s background.

Yet the viewer is reminded that even in a photograph, this image captures motion. It is the split moment between life and death. Because we know the context behind this photo (thousands of died in the World Trade Center), we know with almost certainty that this man shortly after died from impact. This man is not diving for sport, he is diving for life.

A great amount of controversy surrounds this photograph. Some say, out of respect for the 9/11 victims and families, they do not believe this photo should be reproduced or shared with the world. Others argue that the responsibility of photojournalism is to show the difficult images, or the images that evoke emotion and make us pause.

We pause because this photograph shows us something we don’t usually have the privilege of seeing — the moments before death. It is not often that we as humans are able to view the moments before someone dies. Usually we believe those moments are sacred.

This photo is an example of photography not serving as a science or art, but as a tool for documentation. In the world of documentation, nothing seems off limits these days. Especially with issues that those thousands like the events of 9/11 did. A photograph like this, taken before Facebook and Twitter, makes me think how the world would react to a photo like this now.

Thirteen years later this photo speaks to me in a cathartic way. Though it is still a bit disturbing to view, this photo says to me, “This is what the world was at this historic moment. Regardless of what brought this man to this specific state of being or regardless of what happened to him afterward, this is how he will be remembered for the rest of time.” 

We need photographs to maintain our humanity. Several of our readings focused on photography as an invention of necessity. For this reason, I feel like it ties in perfectly with the ideas discussed in the essays we’ve read. For centuries, humans yearned to see themselves. They wanted to be captured and memorialized. I was here. This is who I was. In the same vein, this photograph fulfills our human instincts. It captures humanity.

Think about it. 

September 11, 2001.

Because of this photograph, the day — its emotion, its horror and its humanity — will remain with us forever.

Photo by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew. 

To learn more information about the background of the photo and its continuing impact in society: http://premium.esquire.com/the-falling-man

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