A Phot oE s s ay by K elly Pet er s on
Introduction: New Jersey is called “the Garden State.” Every time I take a drive I am reminded of this, especially in South Jersey where agriculture reigns and fields, orchards, and woods are always just around the corner; but nothing is purely natural anymore. Whether it be houses, barns, metal towers, or the carefully lined rows of plants, the mark of man and technology is evident no matter where you go. I see these sights so often that I barely notice. That is, in a word, the heart of this photo essay. I want people to take a second look, as I have, at the so-called “natural” world around them. This is not an environmental advertisement or a “go green” call to action. It is merely an opportunity to look at the world and really see it for all it is, for the geometry, for the juxtaposition of inorganic and organic, for the beauty to be found in nature—even a tamed nature molded by human hands. My hope is that people will see these photographs, forget for a moment all the political and economic issues surrounding the environment, appreciate what they see as it is, and just breathe.
Analysis: This photo essay is one of the more challenging projects I have tackled during my college career. I have 14 photos and one small introduction in which to accomplish all my goals. As such, every decision, particularly in reference to the photographs, carries great weight. I took approximately 120 photographs during the course of this project. Only 14 of those appear in the finished product. My reasons for choosing the images I did were initially aesthetic. As I stated in my introduction, I hope this collection allows people to find beauty and structure in the world around them. As Martin Lister (2003) asserts: “In making their own connections, choosing their own pathways, by being active in making their own sense of the material, [people] are … newly included in the construction of meaning” (p. 226). Choosing photographs that emulated these elements and presented people with an opportunity to draw meaning from them was first and foremost in my process. Once the majority of photographs had been weeded out, I began to look for more—for a story, a sequence or pattern that would carry a viewer through the essay. This rhetorical desire influenced the arrangement of the photographs as well as which ones made the final cut to appear in the project. In the end, I chose to begin the essay with cleared, open fields. The abundant empty space here was important because, first, being in New Jersey, it is obviously a man-made phenomenon, and second, the composition is simple enough to ease the reader into the essay, which later features more crowded photographs. Another important rhetorical element of this photo essay is its use of transitions. These include zooms of sorts—moving from a wide shot to a closer view—and shifts from open shots full of negative space to photographs with limited negative space and back again. For example, the first three photographs work as a type of zoom, though they are of three separate views.
The fourth through seventh photographs move from move from shots with lots of negative space around the subjects (the trees) to shots where the trees become more clustered and pervasive, then back again.
Similarly, the eighth and ninth photographs form a zooming set, moving in on the tree stumps, only to be followed by a set of two photographs zooming out on the cut-off branches. The initial wide shots set the scene for each act within the story, and the close-ups with limited negative space then allow viewers to focus on the scenesâ€™ details.
The twelfth through the fourteenth photographs again zoom out, showing larger and larger frames of the world. The increased amounts of space in the closing wide shots of each scene also give viewers’ eyes a rest, a chance to pull back and see the bigger picture and not become overwhelmed by the detailed close-ups.
Although how and why the photographs were chosen is important, another important element of their presentation involves the medium through which they were captured and the technologies and alterations responsible for their final appearances. I used a Sony point-and-shoot digital camera to take all photographs for this project. As I was focusing on drawing attention to the nature we see every day, I felt an everyday camera was appropriate. Moreover, I wanted to maintain the combination of opposites—such as metal with or completely straight lines of trees in the photographs— by using something metal and plastic and digital to capture the organic. The methods by which I altered the photographs in this essay also warrant explanation. I first wanted to leave them unaltered, everyday snapshots. However, because this essay asks people to look at everyday scenery differently, I decided this would be easier if they were seeing something different. In pursuing photo-manipulation practices, I am not alone. As Manovich states: “Indeed, unmanipulated ‘straight’ photography can hardly be claimed to dominate the modern uses of photography” (p. 245). Using the online Picnik photo editing software, I added, in varying degrees, a vignette and tint filter to each photograph, occasionally employing exposure changes for clarity as well. The vignette filter, rather than implying a scene of nostalgia or times past, is a way for viewers to look through another person’s eyes or mind. The light bluish tint keeps the scenes from appearing too familiar and, thus, ignorable; it also conveys a feeling of interference, of having been deliberately changed, and that is, in effect, what has been done with nature as seen through these photographs. Finally, I refrained from giving the photographs individual titles or captions. As I am asking
viewers to focus on scenery they normally pass by, extra textual distractions seemed counterintuitive. Now that I have covered the elements contributing to the photo essay as a whole, I would like to analyze one photograph in detail. The fourth photograph in this project features two parallel lines trees heading toward a vanishing point. These lines draw viewersâ€™ eyes into the photograph. The in-focus portions of the tree lines on either side fall roughly along the vertical third lines, and the crest where the ground appears to drop off also lines up with the lower horizontal third line, thus matching nicely with the rule of thirds, which determines that photographs whose contents fall along the lines of thirds are more pleasing to the eye. The tree lines do more than that. Because they are opposite lines, not only to they draw the viewerâ€™s eye in, giving it a clear path toward the middle of the photograph, they also create pattern and symmetry and keep the trees in position to frame the photograph and balance each side. Finally, this photograph, though a two-dimensional object, creates an illusion of depth by featuring in-focus trees in the foreground, some of which overlap the blurred trees in the distance, beyond the line at which the ground drops off. The depth illusion also contributes to its visual appeal for viewers. I hope the aesthetic elements of all the photographs in this essay, like the one I described above, will contribute to its overall success as a story of the everyday normal made magical and fascinating again.
References Lister, M. (1995, 2003). Extracts from Introduction to the photographic images in digital culture. In A. Wells (Ed.), The photography reader (pp. 218 â€“ 227). New York, NY: Routledge. Manovich, L. (1995, 2003). The paradoxes of digital photography. In A. Wells (Ed.), The photography reader (pp. 240 â€“ 249). New York, NY: Routledge.