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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