Urban Life Decay

Each of these photo essays were captivating in their own way. The most striking of which, in my eyes, was The Ruins of Detroit. The image I’m choosing to analyze is that of the Fort Shelby Hotel. While all of the images in this photo essay were intriguing, this one jumped out at me for several reasons:

1. I found the sense of depth in this picture to be incredible. The hallway appears to never actually have an end. It’s like you are peering out into the abyss, yet you are in what was, most assuredly, a thriving hotel at one point. In terms of compositional elements, I also like how the photographer chose to include a partial view out of the window. He could have taken a picture of the hallway only, but he chose to offset it and add tension to the photo by giving the added depth of being able to see the building across the street. In this way the photo is more balanced because it is not simply an image of a dilapidated hallway.

2. This image fits in well with the overarching theme of this photo essay. I believe the theme can be summed up in a few words; abandonment, neglect, and decay. When looking up supplementary information on this photo essay one author compared this view of Detroit to an American Pompeii. A more accurate comparison could not be made. It’s as if these once occupied structures were simply abandoned at one point leaving them frozen in their current state of being, now subject to the wrath of nature. Without proper upkeep, when sites are neglected like this, the Earth will eventually reclaim them.

3. The emotional responses I have towards this work are varied. It’s somewhat unnerving to see how decrepit a once booming city has become. There is a feeling of despair associated with these images, and it’s impossible to lose sight of the fact that this could happen elsewhere. Dissimilarly, I am almost enthralled and enjoy seeing these images, because of the power Earth has to reclaim what we have changed so swiftly is nothing short of spectacular. Now granted this building isn’t falling over just yet, but the signs of ware are evident on the inside and will spread like a cancer until until it has many many years down the road.

This is what happens when neglect and abandonment occur, but is this the natural life cycle of things? Is there something we should have done to preserve the city, or is relinquishing our control over the site the most natural and progressive thing to be done?




A Critique of “Where the Children Sleep”

Looking through “Where the Children Sleep,” I found many of the images very compelling. Even though each photograph told its own story, together the contrast in the living situations of children throughout the world was breath taking. The author, James Mollison was truly able to capture the differences in each of the cultures and situations the children live in. By using good, well-planned photographic technique he connected each child to his or her home. One photograph that was particularly striking to me was photograph 21 of 12 year old Lamine from Bounkiling village, Senegal.

The photograph of this young boy’s bedroom tells the viewer a lot about him. There is very little and what is there appears dirty and old. It is very clear that he survives on the bare minimum. The photographer has balanced the shot by placing the corner of the wall along the right third and the small bookshelf along the left third. The bookshelf and what appear to be large writing tablets reveal that he may be learning to read and write, an idea that seems out of place given the bareness of his room. The photograph has good depth that is created by the light in the foreground and the darker corner of the room. The angles of the walls and beds also give the image a nice balance that is pleasing to look at. The light shining in from the right side of the frame gives the viewer an idea of what the surroundings outside of the shot may be like. There is most likely a large door leading to the outside where it is very sunny.

The second photograph showing the boy himself supports the idea that he survives on the bare minimum and really has to work in order to survive. He is shown with sweat dripping down his chest and with a large field tool in his hand. His stance shows that despite how little he has, he is willing to work hard. His shorts reflect the same tattered and old appearance of the sheets on his bed. The two pictures work together to reveal the boy’s circumstance and even his outlook on that circumstance.


What hurts more: bad going worse or good going bad?


What hurts more:  bad going badder or good going bad?

The very first contextual element I noticed about this photo was the viewpoint. Personally, going the dentist is something I dread more than anything else and seeing this photo reminded me of when I stand at the threshold between the hall and that damned room and feel chills crawling up my spine. I also noticed the various depths and layers in the photo. First you take in the machinery jutting out from the walls, the chair, sink, and prep table. Then you see the window, air unit and heater peaking through from behind. Amidst these layers are the decaying textures of the moldy yellow walls and equipment. The lighting seems dreary to me because the window is opaque, giving the room a suffocating sort of feel. The walls act as a framing tool for the photo and give the viewer an idea of the small size of the room (get me out!). Since part of the machinery is jutting out from the left wall our eyes follow the picture in a way that mimics the western-culture manner of reading left to right.

This dentist’s cabinet looks like it has been decaying for quite some time. The floor is covered with debris and the walls are peeling away like someone’s skin who has had a few doses too much of sun. While taking in each photo of “The Ruins of Detroit” I found that this one fit in especially well with portraying that eerie feeling that came with each click. The dentist usually isn’t a happy and cheery place to begin with, even if it’s fully intact with a friendly hygienist waiting to scrape away at your sensitive and frightened gums. This photo takes the feeling of going to the dentist to a whole new level of horror. It adds another element of creepiness to “The Ruins of Detroit” and works rather well with conveying the state that Detroit has been left in.

The photo succeeds in evoking strong emotion from the viewer regarding the abandonment of Detroit by showing a setting many of us are so familiar with in a state that we have not seen before. What would be more emotionally provoking and disturbing to the viewer? Seeing a setting that we typically think negatively of become even worse or seeing a setting that usually brings us feelings of joy and happiness become abandoned and essentially destroyed?


The Guy Who Just Remembered All The Things

Mr. Kramer, the human computer. A magnificent, and seemingly daunting task. After analyzing several photos, this whole tale took on an eerie atmosphere, as if Mr. Kramer is trapped in a never ending void.

Photo 10 of 15 illustrates these unnatural feelings the best. It is a picture of him locking up (or opening up) his shop at exactly the same time every morning. Some of the compositional elements that were key to this picture being a success include:

1. The action is framed by the building and sidewalk, drawing the viewer to Mr. Kramer in the center, and then to the action of unlocking/locking the door.

2. The depth is evident through the background being a busy street, blending into the horizon behind the protagonist. This creates a great depth behind Mr. Kramer, displaying that the whole world is still moving, changing, growing, while he is still in his routine – day after day – opening and closing at EXACTLY the same time.

3. This is a gesture shot, and comes at the perfect time in the series. The gesture is his relationship with the lock.

This picture creates the repetition necessary to make the viewer believe that this man really is going to be at this store, following each tradition, until he is is not longer able.

The feelings I received from this photo, after looking deep into it surprised me. It is impossible to determine a season from the picture alone; however, the color in the scene strongly suggests a more grime season: winter or fall. The wash over the photo almost makes it grayed out, draining the viewer of any good feelings that could potentially be conjured. This idea of a seasons installs the theme of repetition that the author is trying to drown Mr. Kramer in, because just like winter comes every year – Mr. Kramer follows a tight schedule. The time of the day is also very ambiguous here. He is wearing a jacket, so it must be chilly, but is this early in the morning, or just before dark? Either way, there is something dark about this ambiguity.

Was the author trying to be this ambiguous? Is this a lighthearted adventure through this man’s life – or a grim reality check on how he is muddling through an endless cycle?


Mr. Kramer, King of Hardware


This photo of Mr. Kramer is one that really uses leading lines in order to draw a viewer’s eye right to the focus: the adorable and dutiful Mr. Kramer. The lines of the shelves stretching toward the back are angled toward Mr. Kramer, situated in the center of the composition. The background is cluttered, but blurred and Kramer remains in focus. I felt the blurring effect also contributed to a sense of action and movement in the photograph. The way Kramer’s arms are arranged make me believe he is in the process of walking (or shuffling) down the isle. His red cap, which becomes sort of “signature” throughout the photo essay also grabs my eye. It is amazing to me that Mr. Kramer is responsible for dealing with the overwhelming amount of boxes and supplies in the background, and in fact, knows where everything is. After seeing this image and reading about Mr, Kramer’s meticulous attention and dedication to the hardware store, I was surprised to learn that he lives in a group home for people with developmental disabilities. Because he was portrayed as being so knowledgeable and punctual at the hardware store, and looked to be completely physically capable (despite being elderly), I am confused as to why he is living in such a home. Perhaps he is a savant of sorts? Or maybe living at a home for people with developmental disabilities is an alternative to living at a home for the elderly.

Finally, this photo essay appealed to me overall because I have a soft spot for little old men, especially ones from Brooklyn (like my own Grampy was).


Visual Analysis: A Haunted Castle In Detroit

11This image made me uncomfortable. At first I wondered why; it wasn’t any more ruinous than any of the other pictures that had been included in the “Ruins of Detroit” photo essay. The longer I looked at it, the more I realize that this photo inverted the rule-of-thirds on the viewer. Not that the photo isn’t divided up into thirds at all, but that instead of placing the subject against a cross of third lines, the photographer instead placed the subject directly in the middle. That left a good amount of negative space around the upper portion of the photo. It added a bleakness to the image that I felt weren’t present in many of the other, more cropped photos in the essay.

The photo also manages to be balanced despite the  subject being clearly unbalanced. Framing the image with the tree on the left and the houses on the right adds a symmetry across the entire image, which only makes the fact that the house is about to fall over all the more obvious. The house also appears like it’s about to fall in on itself, with the outer edges almost appearing to be rising where the rest of the house is shrinking. This creates a further effect of symmetry, albeit a much more subtle one.

I would say that, for me at least, this was the hook shot of the essay. I felt that before this image was a collection of photographs that were all pretty similar and that all showed the ruins in a similar way. When I came upon this photograph, however, I paused, because, as I stated above, this photo made me uncomfortable. It was creepy in a way the other photos weren’t. This is a building most likely haunted.

I chalked up this haunting feeling to the unusual subject placement in the image. So then, what makes a photo with its subject in the dead middle acceptable?  Or, put another way, when is breaking the rule of thirds okay?

note: after a little research (re: a google search), I found out that this building is nicknamed Ol’ Slumpy and that it was demolished in 2007. I was almost sad to read that.


Shedding “light” on destruction

For my blog post, I chose to write about the image of the dentist’s chair in “The Ruins of Detroit.”


1. In this image, the photographer uses the rule of thirds to position both the chair and the window on a line. This draws the viewer to that busy space, leaving the right side of the image sort of empty (balancing elements). The light coming through the window only really reflects on the broken glass on the floor, which makes the viewer think about the destruction done to this room. The viewpoint of the photographer lends itself to “leading with lines,” which adds an element of movement to this image.

2. Like I said above, the light reflecting on the broken glass is one of the most powerful aspects of this photo. When I first saw this image, I was just confused about what it was trying to say. But after going through each of the visual compositional elements in class, I can really understand what the photographer was trying to do with this picture, which was to illicit an emotional/rhetorical effect on the viewer:

3. The audience of this photo essay are those people unfamiliar with Detroit. This immediately puts us in the context of our own culture, which would be whatever city we’re from and how we view it. Assuming none of us really know Detroit, it’s the photographer’s intention to make us feel a particular way. I’m not sure if this was the main goal, but after viewing this photo with my newly gained understanding of compositional elements, it is clear to me that to photographer wanted me to feel desolate, lonely, maybe even  sad. This great, huge city is being portrayed through photos of destruction.