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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