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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