Dorothea Lange’s “Death of a Valley”

I looked at Dorothea Lange’s and Pirkle Jones, “Death of a Valley,” Aperture 8:3 (1960) for this week’s reading and looking assignments. Our focus for this week is on storytelling and how the juxtaposition of images and words can tell a story or develop an idea.

I chose 6 pages that contained images that stood out to me. The first shows an empty barn with dark windows and doorways that look burned out, abandoned, and long-neglected. The stark whiteness of the building contrasts with the rolling grey landscape and the cloud cover overhead. The text talked about families disappearing, melting away and emptying the valley.  It evoked different senses – the sound of ripping wood, the smell of tarweed… the caption brought about another dimension of the image. People had to move their houses to move to higher ground and the result seems to have ravaged the landscape.

The second image showed almost a vignette of vignettes.. the abandoned portraits that were left on the floor of the house when the families moved on, are poignant reminders of what used to exist there. You can tell that the wood of the floorboards and the paint are all slowly wasting away from neglect.

The last two images show the dark holes of graves that had been dug up as people left, and the neat mound of dirt that lay to the side. This is an image you don’t normally see, and it makes you think about the grief, the life of the person, what it was like for the families in death, and the stories that the dirt could have told just by being witness to generations of history. The downed oak tree is also one that is quite sad, and unnecessary. Everything that the oak stood for – longevity, time, shade for the cattle, a source of comfort or respite in the valley heat, landmarks, places where people met when the oak was the only real marker on a map – all of these have been devalued once the oak tree was taken down.

Dorothea Lange does a great job telling much of the story with her riveting images that are full of life, love, sorrow and pain. I think that 90% of the story is told with the photographs, but that her poetic captions add another dimension and layer of information that helps the reader to fully experience what it was like back then. Her use of light and shadow in the black and white format is impeccable .

I chose this set of images because of the poignancy of the images, which generally seems to pique my interest. The images would not have been as strong without the words to bring context and deeper sense of importance to the movement of people during this time. They also caught my attention because there seems to be a level of sadness or loneliness on my site as well. There are very few people who walk around the railroad tracks, but when they do, it brings life and utility to them.

In coming up with my own sequence of images, I’ve tried to show the subtleties of the rail landscape and the interesting juxtapositions that occur when it is situated in the middle of a university campus. I wanted to intrigue the reader by piquing their interest with details, and interesting colors, shapes, and mysteries. Taken individually, Lange’s images show significant detail that when strung together, become a whole story with different facets of peoples’ lives that have affected the landscape. I am doing something similar with my own photo essay and hope that a series of small snapshots or vignettes show how people have put a hand on the rail landscape even though it is usually devoid of people.

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Documenting Industrial Pollution

I was really fascinated by Eugene W. Smith and Aileen M. Smith’s book Minamata (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1975) that documented the fight of Japanese families against Chisso, the petrochemical company that refused to take responsibility for countless cases of debilitating mercury poisoning in the town of Minamata. The Smiths were photojournalists who made it their mission to capture in photographs and text the story of the injustices of giant corporations and government vs. the laypeople, patients, and their families. What was surprising was how the American journalists were beaten in the process to the point where Eugene said that he was going blind because of the injuries. The narrative was heartwrenching and provoked a lot of anger since these environmental and social issues are still prevalent today. While in the 1950s, Minamata was still reeling from WWII and now this industrial pollution that affecting their water and their fish, modern day society is dealing with BP’s oil leak, China’s industrial pollution, and global warming. People are still being pushed over in the name of capitalism, children are still being born with horrible birth defects due to industrial pollution and governments and private corporations are still trying to cover this up or refuse to take responsibility. The lack of morality in parts of human society is truly saddening.

The first image that I chose for the looking assignment is very striking in its graphic composition. The harsh contrasts and dark silhouettes of the fishers make the one fish in the next stand out, glistening in the sun. While fish has always been the lifeblood of the sea, and from the poem, of the fishers, it was because of the fish that people died or lost functions because of mercury poisoning.  It is ironic that fish – which we associate with food, health, prosperity, and the goodness of the land – has been tainted by the efforts of humans to create products that are harmful to the fragile ecosystems and to human lives. The fish in the net is dead, but the posture of the person on the left and the silhouettes of the two fishers imply that they are already dead too.

The second image is quite different but piqued my interest because it relates to the media today. This one depicts Japanese politicians, environmental planners, and corporate leaders visiting the homes of the ill who were affected by mercury poisoning to offer their condolences and words of support. From the Smiths’ account, these public and documented gestures (as per the slew of journalists and photographers in the image) were nothing but empty public relations ploys to pretend that they were doing something, but really, they were not taking any responsibility to the horrific damage their company and their inaction had done. It reminds me of coverage of the BP oil spill and how after a period of constant news reporting, it has stopped, and in some ways, has simultaneously left the minds of Americans. The attention span of people and the media are so limited when it comes to disasters. This photo is almost humorous in the exaggerated press coverage, relative to the fact that nothing was done to help the man who was ill.

This type of expose journalism has its risks and its rewards. The story of Minamata reminds me of China’s continuing industrial pollution that has resulted in its exponential growth in manufacturing and production. Its reliance on coal and other dirty energies, its irresponsible waste dumping practices, and its blatant disregard for human life and liberties deserves to be recognized. Lu Guang was recognized by the Asia Society for his work in depicting the atrocities that still occur. These eye-opening photos in color, are an even more depressing look into the lives of societies with government-controlled media.

This post is quite empassioned compared to the others because it is the dissemination of stories of what life is like that raises awareness and spurs action. It wasn’t until Jacob Riis’ “How the Other Half Lives” that people came to understand slum living and the need for ventilation. Pictures can start action, which is precisely why heavy-handed governments suppress journalist and photography. My only hope is that with the efforts of positive-minded people, we can change how people treat the environment and their fellow people for the better, we can support only companies that have morals and socially responsible values, and that love for the Earth and all its life forms can overpower greed.

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Nature in our landscapes

This week’s readings were on the polemical landscape, and the ideological debates on the topic of nature and what it means in a manmade world. There is a dichotomy of nature on the one hand and humans on the other, while some may argue that humans are still, in fact, “natural.” This topic is interesting in my site because for the poetics assignment, I looked at how the two coexisted. Different from my other photo sets, I included people, plants, and activity in my photographs, not necessarily promoting the stillness and tranquil beauty of an otherwise natural landscape.

In one photo, I peered through a fence surrounding the nuclear reactor laboratory (next to the railroad tracks), and saw that there was a beautiful wilderness of weeds and tall green grasses. Because it was fenced off and relatively untouched by visitors, the narrow field had been left to grow undisturbed. Tall cattails (or some relative with the tufted ends that wave in the wind), were everywhere and gave the landscape a whimsical and wild feel. Nature, left to its own devices, can take over hardy surfaces surrounding by machinery, rocks, barbed wire fences and industrial buildings.

Other photos showed a strip of green grass that was growing right next to the giant red brick warehouse. Despite being in the shade for much of the morning and afternoon the grass was green and making quite a living next to the rocky surface of the tracks. Nature in this case was also thriving against human interventions.

To me, what intrigues me most about the site is how the sight lines allow the sun and clouds to create very dramatic lighting conditions. The massive warehouse serves as a looming obstructor, blocking the sun to much of the area until it almost starts to set. This creates amazing shadows, that when the camera is metered on the sky, creates dramatic silhouettes and exaggerated contrasts of light and dark (this one didn’t make it into my set, but I wanted to include it here).

In general, I believe in the ideology of Frederick Law Olmstead, who created beautiful and timeless parks where wilderness was controlled in an urban setting, but developed in such a way that appealed to a universal set of human needs. There is a reason why Central Park, Olmstead Park, and other places attract so many people. It is a relaxing place where people can escape the overstimulation of city life and go back to their natural roots. The organic shapes and colors in a natural landscape – where greens, yellows, browns, and blues dominate – are also quite soothing to the eyes. I think both nature and manmade structures can coexist, with some much more reminiscent of more “natural” settings than others. For those places where human neglect has taken over, nature finds ways to get back in control and thrive in places that we wouldn’t normally expect.

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Figures of speech

For this week’s assignment, we read in Anne Spirn’s “Language of Landscape” on “A Rose Is Rarely Just a Rose: Poetics of Landscape,” p. 216-239. We were told to think further about significant details, but more specifically in terms of the figures of speech and rhetorical devices described in the reading. For our assignment, I chose the following figures of speech that seem to apply to my site. Each one brought to mind some details, forms, and shapes that have featured prominently in my photographs. Others, might be interesting to explore as we enter the unit on poetics.

Framing: The railroad tracks are in the middle and go on seemingly forever towards the horizon. The buildings on either side – the Metropolitan Storage warehouse to the left, and the nuclear reactor and parking lot to the right, flank the tracks, essentially framing them on both sides. Buildings further up and down the tracks are similar – usually right next to the tracks, nondescript, and varied in architectural styles. One is a parking garage, another is Simmons Hall, the new undergraduate MIT dorm that is metallic and almost looks like a sponge. The framing is set by the placement of these buildings, the straight nature of the track and the general openness of this area. While the examples in framing are gates, hedges and walls, the tracks themselves are open, but are flanked by these buildings on either side. This creates only a few vantage points that are accessible by the public. If I wanted to get a different view, I’d have to know somebody in the laboratories since I’d still feel like I was trespassing.

Contrast: This device is important on so many levels. The major contrast is the industrial landscape in a university setting, and in a city setting. The types of buildings, work involved, and infrastructure required contrast greatly with MIT’s campus, with hundreds of students walking around each day. Through my photos, I’ve been exploring the contrasts of lights and darks, focusing on the hours before sunset when silhouettes form, light is at its most colorful and varied state, and there is a sense of transformation along the tracks. The smokestacks and buildings, as silhouettes, become the icons of the scene.

Exaggeration: There is an exaggeration in terms of size on my site. The gigantic Metropolitan Storage building is pretty amazing. It resembles a fortified castle, with very few open windows, and with gigantic white lettering pronouncing to all that it is fireproof. This statement seems to announce to the world that the building is invincible. Opposite that is the nuclear reactor lab, that perpetually blows off steam that rises into the air day and night. People end up feeling very small next to these monstrous buildings. The distance along the railroad tracks is also so long that the sense of scale is distorted. The exaggeration in size and expanse of space only along the railroad corridor in an otherwise dense city, seems to be an anomaly.

Alliteration, echoism, assonance: Throughout my photos, I’ve noticed the repetition of building shapes and smokestacks on top of these buildings. The Simmons Hall actually seems to resemble the shape of these large warehouses, which was something I never noticed until now. The smokestacks repeat – some large, some small. When it rains, the large puddles that form on the ground reflect everything as well, creating more alliteration and echoism that makes the site so interesting.

Rhythm: There is a rhythm to the site that is very subdued and quiet. There is a constant hum, perhaps because of the laboratory equipment, fans and generators, etc. that exist. There is a buzz from the lights that dot the area, especially those that turn on at night to keep the area lit. There is also the rhythm of the train as it whistles at regular (or irregular) intervals, and the rhythm of the clangs and clickety-clacks as it moves across Mass Ave and goes southward. The steam erupts from the nuclear reactor lab with a constant rhythm. There is more to see and experience and hear on my site than I would have thought initially. Finally, there is the rhythm of each day – when the sun sets and casts its glow along the tracks, though each day is different in how the sun plays with the clouds and what colors and shapes they form.

Paradox: In line with contrasts, it also has paradoxes. There are aspects of life that are both hidden and revealed. Hidden away in trains and laboratories are happenings that normal people don’t get to witness unless they have access to this activity. Despite being seemingly open to view, since there is very lax security and no real fences or gates that keep people from walking around my site, there is still a feeling of secrecy and mystery around what actually occurs there, and what the rails are used for. There is a paradox of old and new, with old 19th century buildings abutted with newer ones, like Simmons Hall and the nuclear lab. There is the feeling of industrial and residential, two opposites that happen in cities all the time, but to a lesser degree than in the juxtapositions in Cambridge. There is also the paradox of used and unused – when there are times that the tracks are definitely used with a train going by, but most other times, they sit empty, almost neglected.

For our “Looking Assignment,” I looked at Joel Meyerowitz’s “St. Louis & the Arch” which was a collection of very beautiful and poignant photographs of Eero Saarinen’s famous arch and the surrounding areas of the arch. In many of the photos, we could see part of the arch peeking behind buildings, sometimes almost blending in with the sky since its steel, reflective structure played with light so well. Depending on the photograph, it seems Meyerowitz is using the arch to stand for different things, such as modernism, wealth, light, and distance. In other times, depending on how the photograph is framed or composed, it seems to stand for groundedness, emptiness, or organic beauty. The captions were mostly the introduction in the beginning of the book, so there were no captions with each image to help us understand the context of individual photos. The book felt more like a collection of photos and he wanted us to get a general feeling out of the whole rather than from one.

I chose two photos that I initially responded to, both as beautiful photographs and because they were composed so well. In the first, the arch was silver and ethereal, almost as if it were floating in the air. The use of the water to reflect a part of the arch was ingenious (made me think of aposiopesis, when a statement or address is broken off, to be completed in the imaginastion), as it makes your eyes travel from the top to the bottom of the photograph. The contrast between the types of materials in the foreground and the arch were quite stark – the faceless monstrosity of the red building, the emptiness of the streets, and the discoloration of the water and pavement, implies that this is a neglected industrial area that hasn’t seen much good design. The tracks along the ground that left these puddles of water that reflect the silver-blue light of the atmosphere seem to represent large trucks or vehicles that weren’t there, but were implied by the tracks’ presence. The repetition of the lampposts were at odds with the curvature of the arch. The placement of the arch, the repetition in the water and of the vertical lines in the image, seemed to emphasize the ubiquity of the arch even though it was de-emphasized by being in the background.

In the second image that I chose, I liked how the arch almost blended in with the background light. I needed to peer at the photo closely to confirm that the slight imprint of the arch’s curves implied that the entire arch was actually there (synecdoche, where a part stands for the whole). The way the light was shining on the right half of the image obscured the arch so that you couldn’t actually see it in the sky or the reflection, which was very intriguing. The photograph had a very divine feeling to it, made even more so by the presence of the statue, fountain, and iconic-looking building. The reflections were perfect and seemed to have more color and detail (or maybe it was easier to look at because the sun wasn’t shining directly into the camera). This image is very poetic. It implies that the arch is there, in spirit, wherever we are, and is in the sky and reflected in water. However, it is also not there, as represented by the right side of the building that mysteriously lacks the form of the arch. It makes you question what is real and not real, encouraging us to ponder deep philosophical questions. This form of photography poetry is very powerful, even from an initial glance at the photo.

In the last part of our journal assignment, we read Eudora Welty’s short story, “Livvie”. There was definitely a photographic quality to her storytelling. She focused on significant details in a scene, some of which weren’t necessarily significant details but were certainly details that made up a setting. When she entered the rooms of the house, she talked about the colors of fabrics, glass jelly jars, feathers in vases, colors and pictures. Each description led your eyes from one detail to the next, where placement in relation to the room and other objects was spelled out. A photographic essay could probably tell this story, bringing us from one room to the next, showing us the thoughts and places that Welty so closely describes. However, this would not be sufficient to tell the full story because images by themselves don’t tell enough of the detail, dialogue (or lack of dialogue), or emotions that have such prominence in the story. A diagram of a series of images and words, like a comic book, could be one way to tell the story. It’s a different tool than telling the story in a purely written format since it allows the reader to formulate their own worlds in their heads, rather than taking in a photograph of an existing one. I think that both formats are powerful, depending on how you want the reader to develop an understanding of the messages and stories that you’re trying to convey.

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The elements of landscapes

This week’s readings in the “Language of Landscape” talked about landscape as grammar with codified meanings and relationships. There is an interplay between the elements of a landscape, where each element – whether it is the leaves on the trees, rocks on the ground, or natural or manmade objects – has a unique role and contributes to the overall meaning of a landscape. To me, a landscape is not just visual or physical – it involves every sense. From sight and touch to sound, smell, and taste, these sensory perceptions add to our understanding of what is around us. There is also a fourth dimension of time and movement that creates a multi-layered experience. In this perspective, landscapes change over time, elements can move with the changing wind patterns, and scenes can go from light to dark in a matter of minutes. All of these elements combine to form a landscape that can be understood universally, understood by a few, or interpreted differently depending on who the viewer is. This creates landscapes that evoke a variety of emotions and thoughts, or even the opposite – a sense of detachment.

Take, for instance, my site, which consists of the MIT railroad tracks and laboratories parallel to Albany  St. For the past two weeks, I’ve been photographing the railroad landscape, walking along the tracks and photographing the blue and grey rocks on the ground in between the wooden railroad ties. On one of the photo shoots, I notice a bright orange cone that is lying haphazardly on its side a few feet from the tracks. A couple of yards away, a rock that has been painted the same caution orange color tries to blend in amongst the subdued colors of the other rocks. The steel barriers and the linear shapes of the smokestacks make horizontal and vertical lines very prominent in the visual scene. All of these elements have a role in the industrial landscape. The rocks probably keep the tracks in place and provide a rough surface that is flexible, yet stable. The cones and bright orange colors call attention to parts of the rail that might need work or are dangerous. The smokestacks and the steel barricades serve their own function as a conveyer of excess gases, or a barrier against trespassing. All of these elements have a role, yet they are so intrinsic to this type of landscape that they are necessary to make the scene complete. It’s as if we’re staging a scene of a movie and need to make sure that the railroad scene is realistic. Railroad ties and rocks? Check. Orange caution colors and cones? Check. Smokestacks and other industrial shapes? Check. Noticing these significant details, these elements that are essential in both the working nature of the railroad and the industrial landscape, gives me a greater depth of understanding what lies before me.

The “Language of Landscape” talks about how a multitude of relationships can exist. A landscape has contexts that interact or are independent, with highly related or loosely related or even unrelated patterns. Multiple contexts may be fused, parallel, overlapping or continuous.  During another photo shoot, I was particularly interested in the view of the railroad tracks from Mass Ave. This is a prominent crossing where hundreds of students a day probably traverse the tracks and don’t pay much attention to the awe-inspiring view that they get to witness every day. To the left, a giant historic fireproof warehouses stands guard. To the right, a monolithic nuclear reactor lab stands with a single red brick smokestack that doesn’t ever smoke. Instead, a constant stream of white smoke or steam puffs out off to the side, morning to night. In the morning, the wind is in one direction, with the steam billowing out over the parking lot. Towards sunset, the wind changes direction and billows up, maybe to the left or to the back towards the horizon. The smoke casts dancing shadows on the storage building and makes you aware of the passage of time and light. There is also a prolonged moment when the setting sun is aglow in a fiery orange and glances sideways towards the storage building. What ends of happening is that the upper portions of the lab’s smoke are lit up in an ethereal and otherworldly glow. The nuclear reactor, probably billowing out steam from boiling water, looks instead like it is on fire, ablaze in this beautiful light that quickens my heartrate and makes me try all different shutter speeds and exposures to capture it before it disappears. The steam, one element in this industrial landscape, is probably taken for granted because it is constant. However, the relationship between all the elements – the light, wind, time, smokestacks, the tracks, and everything else, makes it such a unique and wonderful scene. Swarms of people are heading home and walking along Mass Ave while I am completely entranced by this scene in front of me. I am apparently oblivious to the multitude of people staring at me, perhaps wondering what the heck I’m doing, or maybe in admiration because I am noticing a thing of beauty that they haven’t noticed before. Some stop and watch what I’m doing briefly. Others just walk by as if nothing special has happened.

The metaphor of language is an interesting one to use because it depends on who understands it. I, for one, am understanding it more after having to photograph it in detail. Others might not understand but can appreciate the beauty of the language. And yet others are so detached from what lies in front of them, that they ignore it altogether. I hope that through my photographs, people can get a glimpse of what they are missing, and for those who already know, can enjoy it every day.

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The physical and metaphysical

To me, place has both a physical and spiritual aspect that together, creates a whole. When I photograph, I look for that spirituality and usually, there is something about a scene or the way the light falls on an object that speaks to me. This feeling, burst of energy, or intuitive sense is what drives a lot of my photography. In reading this week’s reading assignments and browsing through the looking assignments, I was pleasantly surprised to find that other photographers and writers also see this duality as what constitutes a “sense of place.” To Seamus Heaney, he writes, “It could be said of the poets I have considered that their sense of place is a physical one but I want to turn finally and briefly to three younger writers for whom the sense of place might be termed metaphysical.” They “weave personal emotion into a general pattern of myth and symbol” and also “weave their individual feelings round places they and we know.” The feelings and emotions that are attached and associated with place are what makes photographing them so important, and so interesting to me.

Knowing the significance of this (and Joel Meyerowitz also mentions this in “Creating a Sense of Place” when he talks about the feeling of energy that stops him in his tracks, forcing him to think about where he is before photographing it), I wonder what it is about my site that stopped me in my tracks. Was it the feeling of awe and beauty as I saw the sun set for the first time behind the nuclear reactor lab and the criss-cross of tracks right next to it? Was it the eerie feeling of solitude that pervaded Albany St. at night? I think there seemed to be a pervasive feeling of sadness that is associated with industrial places, but what drew me was the sense of hope that accompanied it. I think it was the natural beauty of the sunlight playing off of the textures of the buildings. Or the slight feeling of thrill every time I walk over the railroad tracks, as if I’m taking a risk with each step. I’m reminded of the physical and metaphysical when I was photographing last week and saw a spectacular, pink and red sunset that lit up the sky with breathtaking color. People crossing the railroad tracks also stopped to see it in awe. The feeling of having witnessed glory and the feeling that this was shared with other minds and hearts makes the photographs that come out of that shoot even more special.

I focused on Camilo Jose Vergara’s “The New American Ghetto” and Brassaï’s “Paris by Night” for my looking assignments. I was drawn to “The New American Ghetto” because it was of a time that I remember vaguely but am glad that the 1980s and 1990s are not characteristic of present day. My two images on p. 34-35 were of the doors of the ghetto, showing the deterioration and neglect of doors to once fancy and elaborate buildings that had seen much better days. These doors are significant because they connect the street to the interior, yet the interior has become a dark void of crack dens, undesirables, sex, and criminal activity. As the photos move along, you see how human neglect and negativity has created a place that is abandoned, full of human and man-made waste. The building is left in a state of ruin and things only seem to get worse when the doors remain open or missing. Once steel doors and gates are put up, there is a slightly different sense of place – one of keeping people out and trying to maintain what little dignity it has left. In other photos, the doorways are protected with religious figures and signs of magic. This otherworldly attempt to protect and things from spiraling further downward reflects the little strand of hope that people had back in this drug-infested time. The ghetto was so difficult to get out of because of the heavy drug addictions and crime that came along with it. Cities, when seen through this lens, were succumbing to disease. The spirituality seemed to have fled these dark places, though there were attempts to bring it back through religion and storefront churches. The physical became much more real in the ghetto.

“Paris by Night” sang a different tune. The two images that caught my eye were on p. 9 (Under a soft electric glow the quayside trees weave graceful arabesques) and on p. 44 (This gloomy tunnel under the railway where the Boulevard Edgar-Quinet enters the Avenue du Maine is a little known corner of Montparnasse.) These two images conveyed a sense of loneliness, eeriness, and quiet solitude that I find fascinating. The was less a sense of spirituality and more a sense of heavy darkness with a hint of light coming through, a beacon of light or calling from above.

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Looking for Significant Detail

This week saw a change in weather that meant that summer is long gone. Say hello to fall/winter! I went out to photograph my site today because the sky outside my apartment window at around 5pm had very dramatic cloud formations– definitely indicative of a dramatic sunset to come. For this unit’s assignment, I looked at significant detail, namely scenes and close-ups that are unique to my site, in an effort to capture the essence of Albany St. and the railroad tracks beyond.

In Anne Spirn’s “The Language of Landscape,” she talks about the importance of paths in contributing to how a person experiences a landscape. If it spirals and curves, it encourages you to explore its entirety, to see new things at every turn. Other geometric paths may symbolize concepts like infinite (circle), unity (triangle), organic process (spiral), and integrity (square). In the case of my site, the paths are very much straight and continuous, as far as the eye can see. On both Albany St. and the railroad tracks to its east, the perspectives are drawn out to the horizon. There isn’t a meandering path, or really much to obstruct your view in the form of trees. The landscape is very much bare, to the point, and in some ways, crude, as if someone didn’t think too deeply when they laid out these roads.

I spent some time walking around the railroad tracks, which are frequented often by graduate students taking the short cut to MIT’s central campus. Instead of walking all the way north to Mass Ave, many students prefer to cut by Warehouse (a former warehouse that was converted into graduate student apartments), past the giant water tank (?) and the liquid nitrogen vessels to the left, cross the uneven, rocky surfaces of the railroad tracks, to get to the back of the parking lot by Metropolitan Storage. Once past, they come onto Vassar St. and the longest and most boring bike path I’ve ever seen.

During my time photographing the site, I looked closely at objects on the ground, noting the different colored rocks that formed the bed upon which the railroad ties lay. The criss-cross wooden planks of the railroad, and the metal tracks themselves seem very historic, as if they’ve been lying there for decades. Once on the railroad tracks, you can see straight lines in both directions – one heading towards smokestacks and MIT laboratory buildings to the left, and one heading past Simmons Hall, towards infinite into a grove of trees. The experience of walking along this landscape makes you very aware of the uneven terrain, the fear that you might step on a protruding nail or sharp object, and the alert realization that in any other place, this would be a sketchy area ideal for all sorts of activities, but here, well-dressed graduate students (many wearing heels or dragging rolling suitcases) are walking across the tracks.

I saw a Master lock sitting along a metal barrier and it formed an interesting window through which to spy on Pacific St. I saw a bright orange traffic cone lying on the ground haphazardly, in concert with a lone rock that looked like it had been painted the same shade of orange just meters away. I saw puddles of water after a downpour of rain a few days ago. It was a similar puddle to one that I had photographed for our first Light assignment, except this one was much bigger, with many smaller puddles forming giant footsteps towards the horizon. A dramatic, red sunset flared from the sky as the wind picked up even more, the temperature dropped, and I realized that my hands were freezing while taking pictures. All the bending down, crouching, standing up in mid-pose for a long shutter speed, holding my breath for a stable shot, and walking up and down rocky surfaces was quite a workout. Who knew that photography would be a form of exercise?

“The Language of Landscape” also talked about fences and territory. There were a number of fences and barriers, but they were there more as a precaution rather than a barrier. People freely walked into and out of the space. A chainlink fence next to the Warehouse didn’t accomplish much.. it merely framed an interesting blue light fixed to the brick wall as it created a dramatic array of blue streaks. Needless to say, the flat and open landscape of the tracks made it the prime crossing point for grad students going to and from home.

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