Journal 11/30

Well, it happened, even though I didn’t want it to.  Another class overcame me, and I didn’t have as much time as I wanted to finish and refine my essay.  I had trouble finding the words that I felt captured my site – nothing felt quite right, but I also didn’t feel like my own words were sufficient.  I am certainly no poet, and I felt like no prose I could write would contain enough poetry.  I spent so many hours looking for words that worked, but nothing felt quite right.  I tweaked and tested things I’d found, and stumbled upon something that I felt worked enough, then promised myself I could go back later.  Except – life happened.  Other classes happened.  I found myself at 11:30 on Sunday night staring at the computer screen I’d been sitting at for 12 hours making maps, thinking, oh my god.  I have to post my website.  So I decided to let it go, to believe that it was enough.  Post it, let the burden fall off my shoulders, and learn what I can from posting an imperfect essay.

Here’s what I learned by making this essay:  while I feel like it is somewhat easy to convey emotion through a single photograph (as long as you take enough, at least one will speak to you), tying that emotion throughout an essay is very, very hard.  There are so many ways to change it subtly, so that it no longer holds the same power.  Just stringing together individual photos that have power is not enough – how do they speak to each other?  What do they tell as a whole?  What if your words are only detracting, not enhancing?  Additionally, maintaining emotion and momentum is tricky.  Inevitably some parts of the essay hold slightly less emotion in them, and it can be difficult to keep the ups and downs in check so that attention doesn’t wander and overall the essay as a whole as impact.  All of the parts can be impactful individually, but they may fall flat when they come together.  Do I feel like I got it completely right?  No.  Do I feel like I got parts of it right?  Absolutely.

In the end, while I don’t feel like this essay is the best work I’ve ever done, I am still proud of it, proud of the work I’ve done during the semester, and happy to publish it and let it go.  Everything I do is a learning experience, including getting it not quite right, and as long as I accept that and am grateful for so many opportunities to learn, I am on the right path.


Journal 11/22

I have decided to go about making my final photo essay almost completely by feel.  I again laid out all of my photos, and felt around for the sequences that felt right.  For text, I re-read my old journal entries, finding text that somehow fit with my photo sequences, fit on a gut level.  In a way, I feel like I’m cheating by not “intellectualizing” this process.  My essay is not complex.  I have not pulled some esoteric text that proves how much I know about poetry or literature.  I do, in fact, love to read and probably could have pulled text that fit, but at the end of the day, I am going back to my instincts here, putting together an essay that I do not intellectualize, but instead simply feel.

During the course of the semester, I went through a cycle with my site.  At first, I simply felt.  Later, as nuances of the site revealed themselves, and complexities emerged, I struggled with the mixed feelings the site gave me.  In order to make sense of the complexities, I added brain, and reason.  I started trying to show this in my photography, to see both sides of the site.  But truthfully, exploring this side didn’t really work on a visceral level, and the photos of the more everyday mundane aspects of the site just didn’t seem to fit, didn’t seem to carry the same weight.  The photos that worked were the photos that evoked emotion, the ones that didn’t engage the brain but pulled at the soul.  This is what works on my site.  I came full circle, embracing this for my final essay.  I want people to feel my site the way I did.

I also came to peace with what I want to get out of this essay, this class.  I don’t care about making something complex or innovative just for complexity’s sake.  Sure, I could figure out how to do something that would show off how intelligent I am, or how complicated my brain is, or how innovative I am, but for this, I just don’t see the point.  Would it get me a better grade?  Maybe.  Like I said, I feel sort of like I’m cheating, because I am simply flowing through this final assignment by feel, not slaving over it or staying up until 4 am writing code.  The only way to know that I’m “doing a good job” is to slave over things and have them be hard.  This is not hard.  This is a flow, a dance, an impulse.  But what is the point of making it hard?  I said this in a previous post, but I am happy with what this class has taught me.  I am satisfied with my efforts, even if I am not the best photographer in the world or will have the most interesting final essay.  The grade I get will not help me get a job, or hurt me and prevent me from getting a job.  It will not tell people how useful I am, how much I am worth.  It will not tell people how happy I was with the class, or myself.  It won’t even tell people my potential as a photographer.  My grade won’t reflect me.  But my photo essay will, and if it shows that sometimes, I operate out of subtlety, out of feel, that I am not always innovative, or intellectually powerful?  I’m ok with that.  These are the things I am coming to terms with in myself.  I may not be always exceptional, but at the same time, I am always exceptional

I chose this class because I needed something different.  Last year, I dealt with some health issues that were partially caused by stress, and would worsen with more stress.  I spent the summer forgiving myself, letting to, re-examining the choices I was making and the life I was living.  I slowed down, decided that I didn’t have to be the best, that just being myself WAS the best.  This class seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity to practice these new skills, to learn to explore and see without judging.  I was nervous at first when so many people seemed to immediately intellectualize their choice of site, tying it to a project or a thesis, because I thought it would be painfully obvious that I was just this silly girl who wanted to take photos that felt like something, but it didn’t turn out to be like that at all.  I did what I wanted to do, and it felt right.  I don’t want to change my approach now for the final essay just because some ancient impulse in me is telling me “work harder!  you’re not suffering enough!”

I’m done suffering.  I’m feeling out this dance between me, my images, and my words.  And it is enough for me.

Journal 11/16

For my looking response, I chose the beginning sequence of Death of a Valley.  I loved how the images set up the story of this bucolic valley, showing its people and its life and history.  I began with the image of the woman holding her hand out, welcoming us to her valley, although now I relize that I should have started with the first page of text, the page with the words “And the Valley Held Generations in its Palm.”  It is a nice setup to then see the woman, a genial look on her face, palm extended.  She is the representative of the valley, not only extending her hand in welcome, but appearing wholesome, healthy, happy and maternal, the valley’s grandmother.

The next image is an overview shot of the valley, showing the town as its situated next to a river.  I think in this case it is effective to show the larger image first, with detail shots after (unlike many other times that I am thinking of in class when students used the reverse in an effective manner).   The point here is not to show detail and disorient first, only revealing the whole later.  The point is to show the overall whole, peaceful, bucolic, and sunny, and then go in and pick out details.

The next image is of a white farmhouse with what looks like lilacs out in front, surrounded by old trees.  This image to me is so peaceful, and also so familiar – it reminds me very much of my favorite old farmhouse in Sonoma county (and in fact this valley is located very near Sonoma County), resembling it almost to a t.  I can just imagine how the lilac smells, and I picture farm cats roaming around, and fresh fruit coming off the trees.  It speaks of California to me, the old-fashioned California that still exists in pockets in the North Bay, part of the history of the state.

The last image is of an old cemetary, surrounded by California Poppies, the state flower, and ancient, wobbling headstones.  While the previous images showed the current life of the valley, this image shows its past and history, completing the series.  In just four images, we see the people of the valley and their friendliness, we get an overview of the valley, we see how its people live, and we see the history of its people.  Its quite a narrative to pack into four photos, but its very effective.

I realize now that I chose four photos without text.  As mentioned before, I realize now that I should have included the first page of text, not only for how it sets up the photo of the woman extending her hand, but because it sets up the story of the valley.  However, I think that even without the text, the narrative of the valley is clear.  We still get an effective snapshot of the valley with simply the images.

I am struggling a bit more with my own narrative.  Since last week, I have taken a bit of a step away from my images.  I am worried about the narrative emerging, worried that I don’t have enough strong photos to convey any sort of narrative, or at least one that’s strong enough.  As I talked about in last week’s journal, I’m also worried that my strongest images don’t tell the whole narrative of the place, and that bothers me.

I am struggling a bit in general, right now in school and my life.  Recently a lot of things have conspired to pull down my energy levels and my mental capacity to bounce back, and I would be lying if I said that it was not affecting my view of my photos and this narrative.  Perhaps after a brief break I will be myself again, but right now the anxiety is taking over, and I am paralyzed, unable to move forward.

Journal 11/8

I’m feeling a lot of mixed emotions about my essay.  I had been thinking about it intellectually, top-down, which is how I approach nearly every single assignment I ever do.  But after meeting with Anne last Thursday, I am attempting to read the story bottom-up, sensing what emerges, and it is making me feel very insecure.

I’m disappointed that the images I have don’t seem to support the full story of my site.  I spent the semester really reading the site, learning its beauty and its dark side, reading both the spirituality and the humanity.  Each assignment asked us to look at a particular element of our site, or to find certain ways of seeing on our site, and while I tried to choose striking and evocative photos for each assignment, I also chose photos that seemed to fit the assignment and show what I wanted to show well.  For the essay, though, we are encouraged to choose the narrative based on our strongest and most evocative photos.  It is hard for me to go from trying to show something specific, and intellectualizing my photography to judging my photos almost solely on their aesthetic value.  I am uncomfortable with this because it opens up the opportunity to judge myself, judge my work, and feel insecure that I wasn’t able to achieve exactly what I wanted to achieve (ie, having striking photos that tell the WHOLE story of my site).  It can be discouraging to know that I don’t have the skill and/or talent at this time to be able to tell the story that I feel and know intellectually.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the class was that there really was no judging.  We showed our photos and everyone was given equal time, equal analysis, equal comments, equal conversation.  Unlike, say, a studio class, where everyone is judging and critiquing you harshly, and people with superior aesthetic skills are held in the highest regard, I felt safe knowing that what mattered most was the looking, the viewing, and the learning, not necessarily my ability to be the best photographer in the class.  I never felt judged.  I felt accepted.  I felt safe to learn, to make mistakes, to move at my own pace.  For once, I stopped judging what came out of the camera, and I began to feel as though it all had value.  It felt great, and it made me feel confident.  Its hard now to judge my skill.  Although overall I feel happy with many of the photos I took and more confident at my skill behind a camera, it was still hard to see Anne look over all of my photos, and emerging with only a small handful that were deemed “striking.”  Is this normal, I thought?  Do most people have more?  Should I have more?  I had to push these questions out of my head.

Now I feel stuck.  In a way, I’m afraid to look at my photos again, afraid that I will realize that I don’t have enough strong images to create a complete narrative.  I don’t want to look at all 324 photos and feel like they are all a waste.  I don’t want to sit there wishing I had more, blaming myself for not having more.  When I intellectualized it, I could choose the best photos that fit a particular theme, but I didn’t have to choose my Best Photos of All Time.  What if I realize that I really only have 4 great photos out of 324?  How do I then tell a great story out of those, without the story feeling thin and sparse?  These are the issues I’m wrestling with in my head.  Fears, insecurities, judging myself, comparing myself.  All of the things that have gotten me into trouble in the past.  All of the things that have made my work less than authentic in the past.

How do I just trust myself, and trust the story that emerges?

Journal 11/1

I have to say, using rhetorical devices to describe my site does not come naturally to me.  It simply isn’t language that I relate to.  Throughout this course, I’ve change a lot of the ways in which I photograph, and see what I am photographing.  The first time I photographed my site, I took 15 photos.  Now, I routinely take 50 or more.  I have almost 300 photos from the whole semester.  I am much more satisfied with my photos now than before, and I feel as though I have some control over my camera, what I see and how I see, and editing in Photoshop.  But the one thing that has not changed is that I feel my site viscerally.  I can describe it in words that evoke meaning, emotion, or even provoke contemplation, but describing it in terms of rhetorical devices is extremely difficult.  It adds a layer of intellectualism that I feel just doesn’t exist on my site.  I don’t WANT to intellectualize my site.  I almost feel as though intellectualizing it would somehow make it lose some of its luster.  I want to simply feel my site.

As my narrative develops though, that’s harder and harder to do.  I’ve written before about how over the course of the semester the story of my site has changed, from simply a beautiful, calm landscape of spirituality to a landscape of duality, one that posesses those qualities but also the mundane, the profane of human life (and college life, at that).  I find myself resisting it.  I want to keep the site sacred.  I want to keep it a refuge.  I want to hide from the college students who smoke and leave their cigarette butts on the ground.  This is the tension I will be exploring in my narrative.  But assign rhetorical devices?  Aren’t I struggling with enough tension already?  🙂

Journal 10/24


On my site, there is a small lane with houses on either side that is home to clergy and faculty.  This little lane was what first drew me to the site – not the towering church, the gothic architecture, or the Brutalist library.  I stumbled upon it on the snow, and from where I stood, it seemed to me to be the perfect picture of a small New England town.  Saltbox houses set in small lawns, a gravel road, and a backdrop of a miniature New England wood seemed idylic and quaint to me.  I fell in love immediately, and wondered what sort of place I had found.  On my way out, though, I turned around to look at the other side of the lane.  That side was the exact opposite of the image I’d seen on my way in – 1960’s architecture with large glass windows, spare Japanese Maples, and a backdrop of rooflines, not trees.  For a long time when I started revisitng the site for this class, I couldn’t make sense of the stark contrast on either side of the lane.  On one hand, I am still drawn to the New England-y side of the lane, and often take pictures of it when I visit.  On the other hand, I have never once taken a photo of the other side of the lane, and can’t imagine why I would, aside from highlighting the stark contrast in this miniature village.  Its like two different worlds only yards apart from one another – the contrast is something I still grapple with, turning my body fully towards one side or the other, rarely taking in both sides at once.


The facades of the buidlings on my site lend themselves to rhythm easily.  The main wing of dorms (the photo from the details assignment with the fans) presents a facade that repeats itself over and over – window, window, recess, window with an arch, end recess, window, window, repeat, repeat.  The roofline goes small peak, large peak, small peak, large peak, again and again.  Even the stones in the facade create a pattern and a rhythm, and it makes me imagine the rhythm of the life that happens behind the facade, the patterns of the student’s lives as a second layer behind the patterns of the facade.


I see climax on my site in the spire on top of the church.  The spire is, to me, the culmination of all of the prayer, the study, the devotion, and the hopes and dreams of the students.  They all gather together, constantly, and the energy that they create winds its way up the spire, around and through the cross, and into the sky, for God, or whatever/whomever to hear, or answer.  The spire is also the tallest point on the site, so on a more practical note, it is actually the geographical climax of the site.  This was highlighted by the bird that I found, resting on the cross, on one of the days that I visited the site – the bird automatically found the climax of the site and used it as its perch, emphasizing it as the high point, the highlight, the culmination of the site.


I chose these terms to describe the contrast in the architecture of the library, which is a 1960’s Brutalist-style building, and the main building, which is almost gothic in its architecture.  But I can’t seem to decide if the main building is an anachronism, or the library is a prochronism.  Which is out of place, the past or the future?  I don’t know that I have an answer.


Ephemism is everywhere on my site.  Not necessarily explicitly, but to me, at least, it is implied.  It is a calm, holy, reverent place, a place where religious leaders are born.  This is played out in the architecture, in the silence, in the trees and lawns, the landscaping, the arhcitecture.  But, and I keep forgetting this, it is home to college students.  College students, even if they are destined to be religious leaders, drink soda, ride their bikes everywhere, hang out in groups, try to act cool, and sometimes steal away to the shadows, where they can’t be seen, to do things they don’t want people to see.  Once, when I was visiting the site in the evening, I saw two students (one male, one female) sitting in a childs play structure in the dark, whispering, hidden.  The next time I went back to the site, the play structure was gone, and the yard was again restored to its stately self.  While I know it wasn’t cause and effect, it almost felt like the site saw what I saw, deemed it unsavory, and cleaned itself up for me.


Although this isn’t exactly the right word, I chose euphony to describe my site because the silence that prevails there adds so deeply to the sense of the mood on the site.  Euphony is a harmonious blending of sounds that can add a mood to a place – my site, I think, is harmonious in its silence, punctuated by low voices on occasion, or the voice of a child walking with a parent through the site.  Mostly it is the silence though, that is so pleasing to the ear, that helps it feel cohesive, calm, and like it is its own distinct “place,” separate from its surroundings.


I found this short story very photographic in its telling.  Welty describes the settings in exquisite detail, and emotional detail, not only describing how things look, but what they mean to Livvie, and the people who created them and brought them to where they are resting.  Every description of a physical object stands for something else – the quilt that Solomon lies under is really his mother, her care, her life work; the pickled peaches and fig preserves standing for Livvie, and the small life that she occupies in the house, caring for her elderly husband.  One element that may be difficult is the thoughts inside Livvie’s head – everything that happens means something to her, affects her in some way, but she keeps it all inside her head.  I could see this story being told as a pairing of photographs and a poem, with spare use of words suggesting Livvie’s thoughts and feelings.  I think that the way the photographs are set up could speak volumes for the words unspoken.

Looking Assignment

I chose Joel Meyerowitz this week, in response to some thoughts I had last week while photographing my site on the spire of the church being the symbol for the place, much like Joel uses the arch as a symbol for the city.  In his photographs, Joel uses the arch as many different metaphors, changing its presence from small to large, caring to looming, soft to harsh.  I chose two photographs that I felt personified the arch, or turned it into character playing a role in the story of the city.  The first shows the arch in a glowing mist, behind a stately building and a statue of a human.  This, to me, showed the arch as a sort of god-like presence, looking over the city, looking over the seats of power and archetype (the building), and looking over the people (the statue).  Other poetic words that can describe this photo include framing, synechdoche, litotes, and mood.

The second photo I chose also personfiy the arch, but this time as a small, humble human rather than a great power such as God.  The photo shows the arch as a reflection in a diner window, almost as if it is a person contemplating stepping inside for a plate of eggs.  I liked how these two photos showed the arch in completely different scales – both as a large, looming, overlooking presence, and also as a small, contained, human presence.  Other poetic words to describe the second photo can include anticlimax, anastrophe, litotes.

Journal 10/17

This week, I related very closely to the discussion of scale in the reading assignment.  While photographing my site for the significant detail assignment, I seemed to naturally work at different scales than I had worked at in the light assignment.  I found myself zooming in to look at close details, examining what these details could tell me about my site, but I also, for the first time, left the site to see what it looked like from a larger scale.  What can my site tell me about itself by walking across the street, or next door, and looking back at my site?  In fact, I found more details at these two scales than at the middle scale.  Up close, details became large and important.  From far back, details became anomalies in the landscape, interruptions in patterns.  It was as if I could only see things if I examined them very closely, or very broadly.

This exploration is clear in the photos I eventually selected for the assignment.  Perhaps the two photos here illustrate it best.  I spent a great deal of time with the statue, focusing on fingers, face, feet, arms.  I loved the way the copper had aged over time, producing green streaks down the body of the statue.  The speckled green on the hands and the head revealed time and age, the processes that have worked on the statue over the years.  The other photo in this post was taken from across the street from the site.  I spotted the bird perched on the cross of the steeple, and ran across the street and around the corner to get the cross from an angle that would show its shape.  I shot photo after photo, and then, suddenly, the bird flew away.  I like this photo because the element that makes it of my site, the steeple, is almost an afterthought in the photo.  Rather than my site be the subject of my photos, it is enough to have evidence of its presence somewhere in my photos.  This allows me flexibility and exploration in a new way.

I started to think of Meyerowitz this week, the steeple of the church my St. Louis Arch or bank building, my “where’s waldo” of my site.  I suppose it began in the light assignment, in the photo of the dirty globe light with the steeple in the background, but on this assignment I made it conscious, made it into a game.  When does a photo of my become no longer a photo of my site, but a photo of something else with elements of my site present?  Yesterday I walked next door to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house, and began to shoot photos in his garden, playing with framing the steeple through branches or arches.  Do those count as photos of my site?  Does the steeple represent my site, or stand in as my site?  Once I started playing with scale and pulling back and pushing in at different scales, these questions started to emerge.  I don’t know that I have an answer.