La Jetee

La Jetee's protagonist is an un-named man with a boyhood memory. This memory haunts his dreams, especially the face of a woman who becomes his main motivation. In personality he is an everyman, moral but not especially gifted. He is passive in his actions, merely following orders until the end, but he is always in a state of lounging for the woman both of his memory and of his travels to pre-war Paris. It is this desire for a solace unattainable that gives emotional momentum. The antagonist comes in the form of a leader. This man is described as "a victor ... ruling over a kingdom of rats" that is french society after the nuclear fallout of WWIII. Though his mannerisms are amicable, his concern is only with power and his societies survival.

The film begins with a memory of modern day Paris, but quickly moves to the future setting of the film of post WWIII Paris. These two worlds, pre- and post-war, are continuously juxtaposed through time travel, making time always in flux while setting remains fixed to the city, with the exception of a brief journey to a future society on another planet. The event that starts the story rolling, after the memory and WWIII are established, is the protagonists being selected for time travel experiment. It is central to the story's theme that it is his personal memory that gets him caught in the situation in the first place. The action is carried forward on emotional terms as the protagonist encounters his memory woman and establishes a romance in subsequent visits. Once the antagonist feels he is ready to travel to the future, the plot begins to role to it's end. The protagonist returns from the future with salvation in hand, establishing the climax. The antagonist will be able to keep control of society and the protagonist is offered a life in the distant future. But of course he declines in favor of a life with his love interest in the past. The final scene begins with joy but ends with a plummet into tragedy. The protagonist Is shown running to meet his lover on the same pier of his boyhood memory, only to be shot and killed by one of the antagonists cronies.

The still images that make up La Jetee's visuals are more center to the statement than the plot or character development. Their beauty and often stark compositions create a foreboding mood well suited to the post-apocalyptic setting and the theme of memory. The film is a comment on memory and the detachment of history as revealed by photography. Every experience is made removed from the protagonist, as if his entire life were a dream. This is why the only moment of live action takes place in bed with his lover, where life briefly becomes lived rather than observed. The use of still images in combination with the plot create a poetic comment on alienation.

While the music and sounds enriched my experience, I found the narration to be dry and often distracting. It may be asking too much, but I would have preferred the story had it been told through pictures alone, though it's complexity makes this near impossible. Other criticisms are the non-personality of the love interest, who seems to have no opinion of this time traveling stranger, the lack of explanation for the protagonist's murder, and the cheesy dots of the foreheads of the future citizens. With these exceptions, I found La Jetee to be an beautiful and original film whose influence is undeniable.

As with all artful films, the aspect that most engages me is it's pacing. The amount of time given to each still image is crucial to maintaining mood and energy. While the art of photography is new to me and there is much I can learn from any developed photographer, the sense of pacing is a talent I can extract right now.

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Scene 1 - Protagonist and Setting: a humble puppy in sinister confinement.

Scene 2 - Precipitating event: A treat is revealed by a mysterious hand.

Scene 3 - Rising Action: Our hero's internal conflict is one of yearning.

Scene 4 - Rising Action: It seems we're privy to service with class.

Scene 5 - Climax: The treat is presented with much fanfare. Now will our hero finally get what's coming to him?

Scene 6 - Denouement: Alas, it was all but a tease to further torment our protagonist. Such is life.

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Picture Suffering

Ernst Friedrich, from "War Against War!" date

These images from WWI were meant to shock the viewer into opposition; to inflame anger and intolerance against violent conflict. Here we have a war veteran whose face has been profoundly mutilated and his eyes destroyed. I chose this photo from among many because of the man's expression. His casualness contrasts with his state and informs me that he must live with the war's aftermath like we live with college debt. War is not an event that passes and this man in particular has to find normalcy with it. And so his dead pan attitude very much asserts Sontag's notion of acceptance, that we should remember "what human beings are capable of doing." War is a part of daily life.

Sontag brings this work up to illustrate the ineffectiveness of this shock treatment against war. But war can not be ended, not by pictures or policy or anything short of miracles. What we can ask for is mitigation. I got this picture from a anti-Iraq War site, that featured this quote above Friedrich's text:

"And because cruelty has always been man’s most awesome weapon— capable of shocking entire nations, entire peoples, into submission—the spoils of victory went to those who showed mercy the least, who knew cruelty the best."

— TRIAGE, novel by Scott Anderson

If war photography is a "war" against war, then cruelty is also it's weapon, which well situates Friedrich's work.

Jeff Wall, "Dead Troops Talk," 1986

This image never took place. Sontag explains that it is a fabrication depicting the fictional aftermath of an ambush during the Russian-Afgahn War. She interprets the soldier's refusal to acknowledge the living as suggesting that war is an experience beyond the comprehension of the living. But the fiction gives it's subjects an opportunity to act human in a way usually unattainable in photojournalism. The way these subjects interact with one another, their informality and playfulness, humanizes them and somehow makes their experience relatable, as if dealing with such a circumstance is a kin to our experiences. In reality our similarities are few, but that relatability is still precious, even if built on such fictitious grounds. War could happen to anybody.

Nhem Ein, taken in Tuol Sleng, 1975 - 79

The only thing I can infer from this woman's expression is anger. She is about to be executed and her last human communication is not of pleading fear but one of frustration and rage. There were so many photos from this prison, taken just before the subject is killed, and they each have an incredibly personal quality, but I could not find another representing this much bravado. Once again, my connection with the subject is much imagined but nonetheless precious. In this way I see that massive suffering is real, approachable, perhaps even mitigable. Sontag describes these subjects as "anonymous victims" to whom we will never truly relate, unlike with an American soldier whose closeness makes his death face taboo. This is certainly true of dead Americans, that we unfairly detest their suffering more, but our human ability to empathize can connect us with the face of a foreigner, if we can be provoked to imagine the mind behind their eyes.

Walker Evans, "The Fields Family," 1936

Margaret Bourke-White, "Russian Women's Brigade," 1941

Walker Evans is brought up in one of Sontag's footnotes as a historic example of disdain for beautification in photojournalism. Apparently Evans hated Bourke-White's work, whose images have become icons. Comparing these two images shows what Evans point might be. His take on impoverished farmers does not hold any punches, revealing much destitution, but he does not sacrifice the individuality of his subjects. I can tell myself a story about each family member by their expressions, postures, and most especially their feet.

Bourke-White's image depicts farming life as something communal and joyous, even if laborious. With each of their tools held in the air they become uniform through aestheticization, their personalities suppressed under a visual gimmick. One wouldn't exclaim "What a spectacle!" but one might at least chuckle. I don't think it's wrong to laugh at people, but this image would benefit from a contrasting darkness, as Evans tragic depiction relies on the naked child's laughter. It is through that complexity that we can imagine a personality.

Sebasiao Salgado, "Serra Pelada Gold Mine," 1986

In contrast to my other selections, this photo depicts a gold mine full of laborious suffering as if it were an epic film. As artwork it is truly incredible, but I find it impossible to place myself in it's setting. Perhaps this feeling of distance is more true, that the situation of these workers are beyond my experience and I should believe that what they deal with on a daily basis is simply incredible. But I do not think this distance serves the subject. By staging the scene so beyond the viewer we can not imagine a way to involve ourselves in it's mitigation. It is happening in a world beyond our experience; "too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local political intervention." I do not think Salgado is exploiting his subjects by making them religious-esque, but great art is not always great activism. An epic character is nothing like a real person, and so the viewer can not as well empathize.

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Romare Bearden "Tomorrow I May Be Far Away"

Bearden created this collage about the black migration, depicting a man leaving his home and his lover behind for a better life in the North. A life long fan of the blues and jazz, Bearden took the title from "Good Chib Blues" as recorded by Edith Johnson. During the period this work was created, the mid 60s, Bearden began incorporating a wider selection of materials, as the busy and dense feel here demonstrates.
An activist and social worker, Bearden spent his life working on social struggles and this passion is deeply interwoven into his work. He often set his work in the areas he lived, here setting it in his home state of North Carolina. The piece is a document of real life as much as a display of the artist's talents and original voice. His choice to deform his subjects, over-sizing their faces and limbs, represents the fractured emotions of abandonment and longing.
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Gone Photoshopin'

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Carter, Cynthia. "Growing up Corporate: News, Citizenship, and Young People Today." Television New Media. 2009; 10; 34

This article advocates that media producers should create youth-oriented news programing in the aim of encouraging political citizenship in young people, as opposed to the consumer citizenship encouraged by corporate media. It sites several current studies, including ones underway in the U.K., and draws from academics' work on corporate media effects and political involvement. Siting notable programs like Newsround, this article affirms the attraction younger children have towards news media, but points out the lack of relatable news sources for adolescents, who are expected to transition from children's news directly to adult news. If acted upon, this article's insights could lead to more teenage-oriented news programming and less consumption of corporate media.

Nuttall, Sarah. "Stylizing the Self: The Y Generation in Rosebank, Johannesburg." Public Culture. 2004; 16; 3

This research article critically examines the highly transfigurative culture of middle-class youths based in the commercial area of Rosebank, Johannesburg, South Africa known as the Zone and propagated by such media outlets as YFM, Loxion Kultra, and YIRED. Specific cultural practices are explored to elucidate on the nature of self identification in the Zone and in the Y Generation youth culture that has emerged from around that area. It critically examines the media produced by companies associated with the culture, focusing on Y Magazine, an iconic Y Generation publications. Also included are analysis of theories relevant to emerging cultural practices. Throughout, Nuttall asserts the transfigurative nature of the culture, in which class, race, education, history, and tastes are subject to redefinition and use as accessories to fashion personal identity. Y expressions are said to represent drastic shifts in the culture of South Africa from what had been during the apartheid era. The article offers a direction for cultural studies, away from meaning and translation and towards circulation and transfiguration, asserting that modern cultural practices should be understood in flux, so that the particular meanings behind signs such as race and style, are viewed as unstable material for expression. More of a cultural analysis than a social one, there is little said on the relationship between Y culture and the poverty and epidemic surrounding it, except to acknowledge the use of popular media as escapism and also the radical potential of such dynamic cultures.

Paron, Katina. "It's About Audience: How Adult Audiences can Benefit Youth Media Organizations." Youth Media Reporter. 2008; 2

This article advocates for the implementation of youth media practices towards adult audiences to encourage higher standards, more effective results, empowerment among the youths involved, and awareness among the adult consumers. Real world experiences from youth media organizations, including CPL, Radio Rookies, and Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, are related to reveal the benefits of having adult audiences in mind when producing youth media and the social gains that can be made from engaging those audiences. This article asserts that adult audiences should be engaged for their political currency, their ability to raise the production standards of the participating youths, and to build scare equal settings for children and adults to communicate. If adopted, the suggestions made could improve the significance of youth media organizations, improve their funding potential, and diminish the negative stereotypes of young people among adults.

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Lights, Pets, and More

The concept for this project was to imitate the approach and style of Ashley Gilberson, and since he does work on refugees, I decided to focus on the most displaced people around me: pets. Gilbertson mostly does photojournalism, in which forethought towards lighting and composition are limited. For me, it was best to keep the technical considerations in mind as I improvised, making the most of the opportunities that presented themselves. Lighting is especially difficult to control on the street so I tried to go with the mood that the environment's lighting already implied. Compositional tricks utilizing the surrounding worked out well to add dynamics to the images.

The final session with Miko, my room mate's pug, made the Zettl reading very relevant. I tried to find an appropriate balance of images and strong vectors, particularly indexes from the subjects' eyes.

It wasn't until the photos were taken and I had to select from among them that my critical eye got some exercise. In the midst of the shoot I just had to worry about having a descent idea and firing away, but sitting down and going over the days work gave me more time to consider what I'd like to do next time and how to view photography as the product of a process.

Here are my thoughts on some of my favorites:

'Miko, My Lovely' took the most time to shoot and was also the most gratifying. Miko give the viewer a straight z-vector that contrasts with Keener's vector leading off to the side, suggesting that reality confronts while fiction avoids. The fall off on both faces are dramatic and the blue and orange colors are complements, making for a good deal of energy.

'Employees Only' has two graphic vectors that define the space. The lighting on the entire image falls off to the right and the attached shadows provide a sort of noir mood. I even like the red sign with the greenish cages.

'Floating Windows' is a really trippy image. Once again there's a strong use of color. The blackness of night gives everything a dream like suspension. The window frames provide obvious vectors that divide the viewer from the shadow-defined spaces beyond.

'Floating Windows'

'Employees Only'

'Miko, My Lovely'

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Intellectual Autobiography


The future is not an overbearing presence in my mind. The nature of my life and my work, whether it develops in five years or twenty, is what remains potent to me, not the pace at which I make achievements. In five years I suspect I will be working for a media company, and in ten or twenty years I hope to be managing my own company, all the while doing the work that impassions me, that is as creative as it is moral. It was that desire, to interweave cultural expression with social good, that drew me away from music performance and into the humanities, and it was that desire that kept me working on my cultural activist projects. That same desire will guide me into the future, however long it stretches before me.

Noam Chomsky describes how persons come to believe themselves crazy in a controlled media enviroment.¹ I know what it means to confront that delusion. My intellectual life began with a social awakening that coincided with my move from Miami to Tallahassee, two Florida towns that could not be further apart in distance or culture. I fell in with a community of student activists and found myself at an anti-globalization protest in Washington DC. I had never heard the word globalization a month before. I knew that I was a tourist in that political environment, and I recognized the contrivance of the event itself. But these kids helped me understand a new reality. From the oncoming Iraq War to the scripted protest march to the promiscuous little party we had that night, I saw that it is the world that is crazy. I am not the one with the problem.

A time of fervent self-definition, without the dependence of childhood or the responsibilities of adulthood, is adolescence. It colors our minds even as a we age and grow into something else. Adolescents come together around symbols with a particular tenacity. The culture industry knows this, studies this, and aims for youthful identities, shaping their culture for them through repetition and association. Where adolescents break away and shape themselves are places of independent culture, and with luck these cultures breed and multiply, spreading into the controlled media environment.

But there is a human fact to confront. People do not go to cultural events simply to experience culture. They go for the admiration of their social group; to affirm one another's value through shared tastes; to feel cool; to index status. Independent culture becomes the same as commercial culture, an aesthetic veil over an underlying signification of status. But in their fluidity and diversity independent cultures can overcome these insecurities. As individuals break apart, reform, and negotiate multiple scenes, they liquify whatever status relationships and become free cultural agents.

I have several friends who take part in Some have been printed via the website and regularly communicate with other Threadless users, most of them young and independent. These users create a community of artistic support and criticism, forming a youth culture. Unlike most scenes Threadless has a production agenda. Their business structure contains the motivation to create output, to make real material expressions, inspiring an active community of artists and an emergent aesthetic. Though based on light-hearted conventions like cute animals and puns, the Threadless aesthetic satirizes commercial culture and resonates with modern experiences.


There was the house where I lived in Tallahassee. The house was a venue for rock shows that run together in my mind as a seamless memory. In these shows I saw a sincerity that contrasted with the commercial manifestations of culture I had grown up knowing. These were cultural events as far from fabricated as anything could be, and I was thankful to be a part of their creation. I fell in love with organizing. At the same time I felt dismayed by the my humanities education, in which real world engagement was simply not included. With the goal of bridging my intellectual, aesthetic, and social passions I began work on a periodic cd compilation called "The Fertile Compilation" which featured local talent and was sold to benefit local non-profits. Elizabeth Coleman notes the "collaborative, messy, frustrating, contentious, and impossible world of politics and public policy" ² that must be engaged to enact change. After years of confronting such frustrating worlds, it became clear that I needed help and training. I decided to go to graduate school.

Humans are symbolic animals. Like other creatures we live with many instincts, but ours play with symbolic environments created through our history. These environments and our interactions with them create culture, adhering us to one another in shared beliefs and values and creating distinct groups of people. Under elite interests these cultures grow removed from the material world where resources are becoming scarce and needs are being ignored. We focus on our symbolic world through consumption and identity formation, and we ignore the material needs of our societies and our future. This does not mean we must abandon the symbolic world that binds us, as if we could. We should associate our cultures with the material needs of our circumstances; political, social, environmental, etc. That association is my agenda.

Associations between the symbolic and the material have been built before. T. V. Reed, in his book "The Art of Protest" ³, chronicles political art movements over the last century; from gospel music and civil rights, to murals and chicano rights, to Live Aid and African relief. Efforts are not flawless, but that does not diminish their ability to bridge the gap. Today, projects like Playing for Change and Yellow Bird Project are using new media to benefit social organizations with art products. After graduation I hope to intern with such a group. From there I will make my own contributions, perhaps building collaborations between cultural activist groups, thus strengthening that bridge between material good and symbolic identity.


Since childhood, I have had an appetite for lofty conversation, an appetite that serves my intellectual pursuits today. Star Trek provided a wonderful kick in the head when I was sixteen, and McLuhan provides the same kick today. There have been a very few teachers who have struck me with that wonder. A Film Studies class, geared towards uncovering the hidden messages of media, had such a teacher. He used the class room as a stage, drawing out humor and interest, even while many of the students huffed in disbelief. "How can you see so much in a Hollywood movie? It's just a movie!" More recently the internet has provided a source for imagination-widening experiences called This is the future of enlightened discussion. Ramachandran changed the way I see culture, Pinker shook my humanitarian values, and Coleman gave me goosebumps. TED has made me a better thinker and a better person, and has given me more hope for the future than any other teacher.

My father has been another source for intellectual wonder. His adoration for Richard Dawkins pars well with my postmodern sympathies. Our conversations and my time on has made the tension between science and humanities pronounced. A comparison between Lyotard's grand narrative and Dawkins's meme can elucidate. Lyotard, coming from a literary background, compares cultural systems to narratives, while Dawkins, coming from a biological background, compares cultural systems to genes. Both models describe cultures as complex systems that homogenize human perspective and behavior, revealing precious common ground. The negotiation between science and humanities will be a major theme in my academic work, as I find tremendous profit in their development towards each other. The scientific world is no longer mechanistic; it breaths and adapts. As scientific models look towards the complexity and adaptations of biological systems we will see science synch with humanitarian insights, with all it's account for subjectivity and multi-culturalism. As Dave Pink says in his TED talk, "The data confirms what we have always know in our hearts." ⁴

Progressive education often frustrates students seeking some solid ground like what the scientific discourse enjoys. Reflecting on my creative process, I note my own introversion and I see other students working in isolation, managing their projects with little time to assist one another. Direction and opportunity can be created through collaboration and universities should develop structures that assure collaborations, with students trading leadership and supportive roles. While at New School, I want to learn to work with others; to facilitate in their efforts towards common goals. For this ambition management becomes a prime skill as well as the ability to develop an effective project, one that achieves it's aims and takes full advantage of it's environment. These skills are my most practical priorities.

Works Cited

¹ Chomsky, Noam. "The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda." Open Media. Open Magazine Pamphlet Series, Pamphlet#10. February 1992

² Coleman, Liz. "Liz Coleman's call to reinvent liberal arts education." TED Conference. February 2009.

³ T. V. Reed. The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle. University of Minnesota Press. July 2005.

⁴ Pink, Dan. "Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation." TED Conference. February 2009.

Sites of Interest:

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Ashley Gilbertson: photography and social issues

Photojournalism has a delicate relationship with it's subject. By capturing people, often in one of the most serious situations of their lives, the photo has to take some stance. The photographer wants to show reverence for the subject, but also a human complexity that necessitates fragility or even absurdity. Ashley Gilbertson's work can reveal both severity and absurdity interwoven in a single shot. Throughout his career he has maintained a social focus, but disrupts the seriousness of his subjects with a contrasting playfulness, either catching them at their most lighthearted or using his formal expertise to add some fun.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Gilbertson learned his trade under the tutelage of Emmanuel Santos, with whom Gilbertson shares a formal focus on depth and an intimacy with his subjects. He later learned under Masao Endo, whose experience in conflict zones was a great resource for Gilbertson's future work. Gilbertson's social focus lead him to photograph refugee situations world wide and found him in Northern Iraq at the outbreak of the last Iraq war. Gilbertson's images from the war have won several accolades and were included in Time Magazine's "Pictures of the Year."
The tension between horror and humor reflects the persistence of Gilberson's subjects, who strive within their circumstances for both live and to enjoy their lives. I would like my work to express such human persistence and complexity.

Gilbertson's mix of serious and playful is exemplified here, illustrating a person's familiar goofiness even in a conflict zone. The lights in the room are used as standard lighting with particular use of a back light which pushes the figure out of the photo and down the banister.

Each soldier's body has a quick falloff from their heads and disappearing below their waists, so that each hat stands out and asserts the quantity of men here being enlisted.

The cast shadow over the sleeping soldiers creates time orientation. Because we know these soldiers are sleeping in bright morning night, their fatigue and fragility is pronounce.

This photo speaks of the relationship between a soldiers and their targets, who, caught in a sniper's sight, are all too human. The dramatic lighting coming through the scope on a rifle is also predictive, suggesting violence to come.

The helicopter is represented only by a cast shadow, and spatial orientation is employed to demean the soldiers below and position the chopper as dominating from above; an iconic and playful depiction of war's immensity.

The red of this picture is media enhanced to emphasis the danger of the surroundings and the figures isolated place therein.

The flat lighting of an overcast day is an absurd normality in which to place these threatening young boys. The humongous Donald Duck in the background makes for an offsetting image, typical of Gilbertson's mix of humor and horror.

With both the foreground and the background in focus and in the flat light of day, Time Square seems artificial. The mood and atmosphere serve to comment on the artificiality of war as seen from home.

A single source of light captures the baby at the very moment of birth, commenting on each person's single individuality. The selective lighting and near total black of the rest of the photo makes for a poetic use of chiaroscuro.

The expanded lighting in this photo comes from an above street lamp. The surreal moment of elephants under a New York road sign leads to a wilder perspective on our urban environment.

With quintessential silhouette lighting, this photo depicts church goers praying for relief from economic hardship.

This is an iconic image of hard times; a ominous black cover showing the closing of another car dealership. The shadows in the cover's folds make for expressive tactile orientation.

The above lighting creates a dramatic falloff down the bodies of these churchgoers. The young man in the t-shirt seems out of place in the dramatic lighting, illustrating a generational divide among the faithful.

As a depiction of a gay pride parader, this photo depicts social activism as spectacle. The attached shadow dramatizes the body, and here, it is the body that is the social message.

Julian Opie's model city, uniform and inhuman under sterile, flat lighting, is here challenged by Gilbertson's audacious subject.
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