“Rely on instinct rather than science and methodical technique when photographing”
“I photograph to find out what it will look like photographed”
As I stepped into the third floor exhibition room, my eyes were instantly drawn to Aïda Muluneh’s vibrant photographs. In this specific photograph, Muluneh uses line, framing, and color to enhance her theme and create a visually appealing picture. The lines in the background, for example, draw the viewers’ gaze towards the subject, making her presence in the photograph especially proud and prominent. In addition, her subject is uncentered and follows the rule of thirds. Muluneh’s inspiration comes from the stereotypical depictions of Africans/ African Americans in the mass media. She strives to capture Africans/ African Americans bearing face paint; face painting is a worldwide practice and has several stylistic commonalities around the globe. This is meant to give viewers the chance NOT to racially profile, but to appreciate the photograph and remember it by more than just race. In this photograph, Muluneh’s use of color is incredibly interesting and engaging. I believe she only features primary colors because primary colors are universal, and she does not want any color to be associated with a particular race. Her choice to use warm colors in the back, and cool colors in the front is also striking. Cool colors recede, and warm colors come forward. By making the photographs MAIN subject wear blue, Muluneh is juxtaposing the topic of race and color: the issue of race, which is usually pushed back, is literally coming forward.
What first drew me to this photograph was the fact that it reminded me of John Baldessari’s work: the photographs were clearly posed and the subjects’ faces were purposely obscured, which is the focus and statement made by this work. I believe its composition and thematic elements make it a strong collection. The effect of the photo is jarring because it contrasts traditional rules of portrait photography, like the rule of thirds and depth of field, with the deliberate erasing of the subjects faces (replaced by text). This non-traditional element helps engage the audience and reinforce the pieces’ theme: that we are not permanent. The text reads “everything will be taken away,” conveying the idea that individuals perish. The removal of the face illustrates the theme because it demonstrates that people are “taken away” from this earth: erased from the environments that defined them. The photographs are less about the people posing than the statement being made about the impermanence of human existence. The graph paper used suggests precision, structure, and hardness, all of which feel detached, dispassionate, and statement-making. This sense of detachment allows viewers to focus on the message of how fleeting peoples’ lives are, and how quickly they will be replaced. The fact that the photos appear to be vintage makes the subjects seem ghost-like and suggests that they may have already gone; their faces are no longer relevant because life is ephemeral.
Em Rooney’s creative presentations emphasize her photography’s strongest compositional elements, which is why I was so drawn to her work. This photograph, for example, has repeated vertical rectangles throughout. Each is repeated in groups of three; this is incredibly successful because groups of three are natural and most comfortable to the eye. The groupings make the photograph aesthetically pleasing, and this is stressed by the frame, which is also rectangular. The photographs main subject is clear, but the lines in the photograph don’t allow viewers to linger there. The lines draw viewers outside the photograph and into the frame; this is successful because the photographs main subject is not too interesting, and this forces the eye to travel. The lines of the crosswalk almost seem to continue moving into the surrounding frame, since both are a striking, clean shade of white. Rooney aims to create unconventional frames for her photographs. Each frame refers to a specific individual; there is a nostalgic-like quality to the photograph and this is emphasized by the fact that the photo is black and white.
I grew up with Tajín: The spicy, salty condiment Mexicans love to put on all of our food. From pineapple to popcorn, Tajín just makes everything taste Mexican. Tajín is hard to find in the United States, but we’re always looking for things that flavor our experiences with something that reminds us of who we are and what we have in common.
I went looking for Tajín today in Coney Island; speaking to Latin American immigrants about what they do, where they came from, and what flavors their lives in the U.S. that reminds them who they are.
I enjoyed meeting new people and talking to them about their experiences in the United States: hearing their sweet and sour stories. I would often lead with the question, “where are you from?”, and felt that this question unsettled some people. Other times, I would lead with, ”what do you like to do in your free time?”, which I believe put the subjects at ease. I played with different introductions each time, and finally found one that I believe suited most people.
No matter what people leave behind, they always bring something flavorful with them.
In Hiss’ essay, “In Motion: The Creation of Travel”, he explores the spark of wonder we often lose when nearing adulthood, as well as its benefits and how to activate it within ourselves. Hiss suggests that our sense of natural wonder is often activated by the most random of sights, and that once we discover the sense of clarity this brings, it is difficult to see the world through the same pair of eyes. This clarity intensifies ones hunger to learn and propels you into a world of curiosity. It’s almost as though we’ve been wearing blindfolds before the moment our natural wonder resurfaces.
Our desire to uncover this sense of wonder may be scary and uncertain, but it also opens doors and endless possibilities, which is why it should be explored endlessly. However, wonder may not resurface naturally. We often don’t give ourselves the opportunities to examine what we deem “ordinary”. I see light bulbs, for example, every day. Yet, I have never taken the time to admire them and learn about them because they are a part of my daily life. Upon further inspection, though, I recognize the power they hold on our lives, and how together they form an intricate system. Our sense of wonder is constantly beneath the surface, only few steps away from breaking free. If only we took the time to explore everything we see, no matter how ordinary it may seem, we can activate this sense of wonder once more. In addition, we must actively ask ourselves questions: they are the key to reclaiming our wonder.
Questions are the key, and photography can be used as a medium to explore them. By asking ourselves questions about the people or items we encounter every day, we can ignite this sense of wonder and we can document it through our camera lens. They will serve as a tool to capture what we want to know, and what we don’t yet realize we want to know. Both these pieces of writing urge us to create and explore. Hass, especially, encourages us to explore what is right in front of us, which is why I believe you had us read these pieces. We are being encouraged to explore what may seem ordinary and we are being encouraged to always ask questions.
We must each set out to discover our own “wonder triggers”: the things that cause our minds to jolt from from unthinkingly seeing the ordinary to suddenly perceiving the extraordinary. A photographer’s role is to capture the extraordinary in order to help others see it.