The Great Commission Amanda Chandler Dr. Wolff Rowan University Photo Essay
Some four years ago I was driving down Grove Rd in West Deptford and I noticed spray painted white crosses on all the telephone pole. The White crosses contrasted against the dark brown poles which made them heavily visible. Not be a religious person I immediately thought it was vandalism and complained about the taggers ideals for defacing the town. Each time I drove down the road my eyes wandered to the side of the road. The road was littered with trash and tags. As time went by, it went to the back of my mind and was forgotten. Three months ago my boyfriend and I went on a nature path in Riverwinds. The crosses were there, along with the word ‘Jesus’. And then, last Saturday during a 5 k walk for Cystic Fibrosis. I was disgusted. It was escapable and the township did not set forth a clean-up action. These tags had obviously been there for years with no clean-up crew to fix it. At the time my topic for the Photo Essay was causing me trouble, and this gave me inspiration. My travels took me to several locations, but what I captured was not even remotely close to the full amount of tags. These tags were spread throughout the town, specifically on street corners. They were also placed at points of interest and parks. The day I went searching I found over 400 tags. Everywhere I turned the crosses looked over my shoulder. Additionally, even after my initial outing I discovered more tags. Why did someone tag crosses and ‘Jesus’? Why had they not been removed? By exploring the tags throughout my town I exposed not only the taggers possible motive but also a negligence of my town.
Choosing my medium for recording these images was very difficult. I wanted the medium to relate to the idea of what I was composing. Originally I was thinking of using my Nikon D3100. The DSLR would give me great quality and enhance details that I would want to capture. Thinking deeper I thought about disposable cameras, but the crosses and graffiti weren’t disposable; they had been in my town for years. While some crosses that had been nailed to trees had fallen, their nails or parts of the crosses remained. I also wanted to manipulate the photographs easily and would be placed in unfamiliar territory with a disposable camera. Instead I turned towards my Iphone 4s camera whose 8 megapixel iSight Camera would suit my needs. I thought of what Dr. Wolff said, “do not snap hundreds of images pick your shots wisely.” On a personal note, my phone has very limited space, leaving room for only 80 or so photos. My DSLR has room for thousands. As I normally shoot that way I wanted to try the challenge. Additionally social media has become prevent in communicative technology or Smartphone. The person who tagged the Jesus and crosses thought this was a better form of communication than a website, Facebook or twitter. Hine’s article in “Classic Essay on Photography” aimed to document working classes in America in an attempt for a social reform. His photographs documented an uncertain remedy of child labor and the negligence of the law. By using a Smartphone I wanted to bring attention to their vandalism in a nondestructive manner. While I did not interrogate people within the town about the tags I reminded myself of Errol Morris. The specific times in my life where I remembered the vandalism were prominent memories. I felt like a reporter; capturing the stories of my town. Whether it was time of day with Picasso or the angle and positioning that the tagger placed their tags I felt as if I was recreating the scene (Morris 40). Some shots required me to get up close to the tag. It made me think about where the person stood in order to spray the paint. Where they looked for spots to tags. The location of the tags had purpose in themselves. They may have seemed random at first glance, but they are all strategically placed. Several tags were place near schools or on playgroup equipment, others on businesses. The tags were not just done on trees but private property as well.
In some cases it appeared as if multiple parties were fighting over tag space. It appeared as though one tagger did initial tagging and then another came by in an attempt to erase or cover it up. Then the original tagger or someone with a similar motive returned to the spot to rebuild the tag. There was a conflict of interest, a fight over ideals exhibited through images. By choosing photos that showed this relationship along with the relationship between location in the photographs. Originally I thought of solely defacing nature, but the mission of the tagger was more than tagging trees, they clearly wanted as many people to hear the word of the lord and be saved. By having the tags in prominent locations of the town’s citizens they optimized for the most reach. I am told, that in order for the second coming of Jesus that all must hear his story. By accepting the lord as our king we will be saved and the true Earth and heaven will open up to us. Propen explains the “point of the mapmaker” by analysis the intentions and purpose of the “cartographer’s craft- the object of visual communication.” While I was troubled by the defacing property and vandalize living trees the tagger’s point of view was to save. I wanted to explore this idea of defacing property for a good. It felt wrong, ugly, and dark. Editing these photos to make them appear sinister by making them black and white to give them that dark, gothic look. Some with shadows and the saturation heightened, some with dark vignette around the edges for high contrast of the paint. Others I wanted to hide the crosses so that you had to look deep into the photograph to find. With these techniques I related the photographs back to how I found them. Some tags were in the most obvious of spots, others were hidden and might be overlooked, positioned in inconspicuous places, much like a religious agenda I have often come to face with. These crosses and Jesus are meant to symbolize kindness, and all powerful love for all, and often it is misused or abused. Whether a living tree, public bench or sign, or private property I did not think that spraying spray paint of 400 crosses was an appropriate or effective way to communicate one’s message.
I had taken around 70 photos on my photo essay journey and the photo below was actually the very last one taken. I drove through the underpass and almost missed it. After parking in a closed businesses’ parking lot I walked through puddle and left behind garments of clothing for this. With this shot I thought about not focusing in on the cross as much so that viewers would see what is around the tag instead. The original photo is not cropped to the Rule of Thirds. Our brains are drawn to the objects that appear in a third or two third of an image. By placing one of the cross on an intersecting line I am forcing the viewer to pay attention to it more than normal. Even so, having the cross in the lower bottom third gives it enough attention but still draws your eyes to the background. The surrounding
vines, street and underpass were to take the stage, as Hall’s noise or McCloud’s closure away the cross. The background and the location or context of the tags were more important to me than the semiotics behind the tag itself, nature. There is also nice shapes and patterns in the top right corner of the overpass sign. The eye loves patterns and tends to lean towards these shapes instead. The rectangle pattern is certainly not the only line in the photograph. There are several lines including the curb, detail of the underpass wall (originally painted green), roof of the underpass, the traffic. The line enable us to journey our attention to the context of the scene of the photograph. I wanted to have the viewer’s pay attention to parts of the photograph they might have over looked. Having all of lines enable the eye-catching, especially when the Rule of Thirds was used for the cross. The largest part of this photo is the processing after it was taken. Because it was a digital image I was more familiar with the post production editing process. This process allowed me to experiment with the photograph to manipulate it so that my ideals poured through the image. Like Morris and Silver’s revelation of the “The Claw’s” claw I used the experimentation of editing to mislead my viewers (Morris 86). The high saturation and shadows depict a dark night, even though the image was created in the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day. These photos are all manipulated to show my ideals, what I wanted them to show. They are my take on the taggers original motive. Due to the specific in the editing I objectively these images to appear dark and sinister, just as I think the vandalism is. Regardless of my town’s actions, or lack thereof for removal of the crosses and ‘Jesus’ my intent is to obscure the original meaning of the m symbols. While my town may not even notice them because of religious overflow, I see them as vandalism and how I display them to you, my viewers should strike a chord.
A photo essay for Rowan University Visual Rhetoric and Multimodal Composition