Sunday, February 28, 2010


The comments from this week's lesson about the trope of a photograph opening up a new angle or view by which an outsider might now see the city or culture in which I am now living have gotten me thinking a lot about how I can show people back home what my experience is here. I've wanted to show them the landmarks and postcard images, sure, but I have really had trouble capturing the day to day experiences that I'm finding so wonderful here. I think by considering the tropos of the photograph I'm taking I'll now be able to do this better. I do think that I have been doing this somewhat subconsciously all along, however, now that I'm aware of what I was doing the effect can be all that much greater. But let's analyze my handling of the tropos in the pictures I took for last week's post:

The tightness of the picture of Kyle and the lighting give a good sense that the restaurant in which we were in was a smaller space. The building seen through the window is also relatively close as well. These elements along with the low lighting show that the restaurant, and neighborhood might be places that are cramped or dense.

The picture of Evan sitting on the ground in Madrid was not as successful in capturing the moment as I had hoped. There was a whirlwind of leaves and trash that swept over him while he was seated waiting for a bus in Madrid. That situation had a lot of movement in the leaves and bags, but it's not captured in this photo. I do think that the fact both subjects' attentions are directed in the same direction does help the viewer to begin to understand what is happening in the picture. The fact that the pavers take up the entire frame help to give the viewer a sense of the feel and texture of Madrid.

The upwards angle shots of these buildings in Madrid give them a monumental feeling, a feeling that they are quite imposing. Another contributor to this feeling is the fact that there are no people shown in the frame, putting all the importance on the weight and brevity of the structures. The top building is taken on a sunny day while the bottom is taken on a cloudy one. This works well with the material of each building to portray the feeling of the building: blue sky for glass; grey clouds for concrete.

The absence of people and the upwards angle of the building in Munich give a similar monumental feeling as the buildings in Madrid. When this building is then shown in the daylight with crowds of people all around there is a much more lively feeling to the building. The first seems as if it is some foreboding castle, while in the second it appears to be a central gathering place.

The two snow pictures taken in the Olympic park in Munich both give a sense of coldness with their lack of color and lack of people. It's hard to tell which picture makes the place seem more lonely, the one with no people or the one with only one person. I think the one person within a large area is more effective at portraying the emptiness of the place than the isolated footprints at a close range because the first shows how vast the place is.

The blurred lights and festive colors help give a sense of the excitement of Carnival. But when you look closely at the picture, the reflection of the lights off the wet road tell the viewer it's raining. Also the expression on the subject who remains in focus also tells this tale. The combination of all these elements effectively portrayed a scene in which a celebration is mixed with misfortune, but goes on happening anyways. From this event I got a better understanding of the expression "to rain on the parade."

The two images of the lake in Retiro Park in Madrid show a different feeling for the lake. The top gives a sense of the entire scene, the impression one might have from the bank of the lake, surveying the scene. The second however gives the viewer a better sense of the experience of the people on the water, and takes away the monument of the fountain. The green lake doesn't seem as picturesque in the second image, but the viewer gets a great sense of the texture of the wooden paddle and of the water.

The last two images portray the inner courtyard of a monastery in two different ways. The first with a single subject taken from far away shows the somberness of the courtyard. The second, because of the way the floor takes up half the frame, makes the space feel much more intimate, as do the addition of a number of people, even if it is just their feet. The difference in showing the entire person vs simply the lower halves of the people also creates a different sense for the place.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Digital Photography

A sampling of photographs that I took to implement the techniques that I learned from this weeks lesson on digital photography techniques. The pictures were taken in Span and Germany.
Kyle at Doner Kebob. Keeping the photo tight and using the rule of thirds.

Whirlwind of trash engulfing Evan. A downward shot of Evan sitting in the trash. Fitting given the context of the shot.

As an architecture major, I'd say the upwards shot is perhaps the most commonly used to the scale and nature of the subject matter.

Marianplatz, Munich, Germany. Looking at the tower and statue at night using rule of thirds and again during the day with different light settings and employing an arch to naturally frame the photograph.

Snow in Olympic Park, Munich at two different scales and using different orientations.

Carnival Parade in Barcelona. I thought this one turned out particularly well given the lighting conditions, rain, and quick movement of the people. Although i don't own a tripod, this is a great example of what can happen to your photograph when the picture is taken by an unsteady hand. The focus on the one drummer mixed with the blurriness of the other paraders, however, portrays well the environment and liveliness of the parade.

The lake at Retiro Park at different scales and orientations.

A monastery floor taken using different scale, orientation, and location of subjects in the shot.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

McDonald's, Rhetorically Speakin(g)

I have suddenly become aware that the interpretation of the rhetoric used in McDonald's commercials has been something I've been doing since I was a small child, though perhaps only on a subconscious level until now. I can still hear children singing the "Do you believe in magic" Happy Meal commercials from the 90's, as I can also recall soundbites of the "We love to see you smile," "Did somebody say McDonald's," and "I'm lovin' it" campaigns. It was therefore interesting to see that the current "I'm lovin' it" slogan made its way to the Spanish website, appearing about the same number of times and in the same places as on the US site, and in English nonetheless. Having been to the McDonald's in Madrid last week and to the McDonald's here in Barcelona earlier today, I can say that the menu items are basically the same with only a few small differences. I haven't run into a New York Crispy or a CBO (Chicken Bacon Onion) Sandwich in a South Carolina McDonald's before, however these could be new items in the states added to the menu in the last month.
It was not the food items so much that were noticeably different, but the subtly different ways in which they were presented to me, the consumer. The first advertisement on the Spanish site that you see depicts cows which have eaten the field of grass in which they stand to resemble the shape of the country itself. In a subsequent video advertisement the cheerful music and pleasant voice announce that McDonald's hamburger meat sold in Spain is from Spanish livestock. Although the US site does have a link devoted to pushing their menu as "healthy," the larger concern in Spain is not about the calorie count, but rather about the freshness of the food prepared, and where it comes from. Given that the recent Mad Cow scare in Britain is not to far from both the minds of Europeans and the shores of Spanish cities, it is logical that addressing this concern and reassuring the consumer of the freshness and localness of the beef would be of utmost concern to restaurants in Spain. The music and pleasantness of the ad give a secure feeling, and the site of one's own country may even evoke a sense of Spanish pride. The cattle appear to be quite content living in such a picturesque landscape, and this puts the viewer at ease as well. The reassuring voice in the commercial lets the viewer know that McDonald's is primarily concerned with their best interest and has taken the steps necessary to bring them the product that they desire in the manner that they desire.
One comparison of the two sites that I kept noticing was the "informal" language or presentation that the company was trying to push. The main example I experienced on the US site was the complete abandonment of the letter "g" in titles or words used in slogans that ended in "-ing." By spelling the words this way they are trying to create an atmosphere in which the consumer feels as if he or she is at the restaurant to have fun and relax from the formalities of everyday life at the office or school. In fact they even have a title at the top of the page called, "Havin' Fun." I did find it interesting that in lengthier descriptions or in phrases that comprised complete sentences the "g's" were no longer excluded. I assume this was because if it were to be taken to this level of exclusion the site may come off as sounding too relaxed and could be perceived by some as unintelligent, ignorant, or stereotypical of certain regions in the United States. The Spanish website achieved this idea of informality by including exclamation points with many of their titles and by writing many menu items in a "hand-written" script. In the McDonald's itself there are advertisements on the wall which display hand-drawn sketches of fresh-ingredients along with descriptions in a font that resembles a cursive hand writing. These not only continue to play on the appeal of fresh ingredients but also divert the consumers attention away from the fact that McDonald's is a world-wide chain of restaurants and therefore can be seen as lacking intimacy or originality with the consumer. This is also why both sites push the "identity" or personalization of the restaurant angle.
Overall, I didn't find the Spanish site to be all that different than the American site. Had I looked at the site in English, and had the cows eaten the grass into the shape of the United States rather than Spain, I honestly don't think I could have told the difference between the two. But when I looked closer at the rhetoric of the two sites, I could see that there were many subtle differences that, because of culture, existed between the two. Either way a dollar menu cheeseburger with McDonald's fries is still one of my favorite low budget meals.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Google, I know You'll Read This Too

I was first alerted to the "Is Google Taking Over the World" theory some months ago when I came across a video about "Google's Opt-Out Program" on a fake news site that I visit about once a week. While this video is clearly a parody, it did get me to begin thinking about the privacy issues involved in using such a service. But until I read Nicholas Carr's "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" article, it had never really occurred to me that not only could the privacy of my personal information be at stake, but also the privacy of the inner sanctum of my own mind.
Carr does present an interesting observation that he now seems much more distracted because of the way he uses the internet, and particularly because of the constant barrage of images he is inundated with when he surfs the web. To relate my own experiences to Carr I need only to look back to the previous sentence; as I was typing the word "inundate" I had to look up the spelling of the word, so mid-sentence I used the hot corners feature on my computer to display all of the opened windows so that I could travel to Including this site I had open 9 websites, all consisting of entirely different content, each containing thousands upon thousands of possible links, images, and blurbs. The effect of Carr's argument quickly clicked (no pun intended) in my mind. I realize now that the way I absorb information is one of quickly moving through a series of "highlights." Given the way the internet is set up, I do not find this all too surprising.
What did really surprise me, however, is when I noticed how this way of absorbing information has now revealed itself in situations where I am not in front of a screen. This past weekend we visited the Prada Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid which contained the Royal Collection, one of the finest art collections in the world. I didn't notice it at the time but I am now noticing the way I went through the museum is very similar to the way I might scroll through a group of pictures on line. As I walked through the long halls I would skim the paintings, not really even seeing them until one caught my eye. I would view this work in greater detail and then continue skimming until my eye was again caught. The museum it seems even knew that this was the way people were viewing the museum and created a "Masterpiece Checklist" so that one might skip over the other stuff and see only the most famous pieces. There were only two or three works where I really stopped and took a good amount of time viewing a painting (surprisingly neither of the two were on the "checklist"). I now am wondering whether someone who is web illiterate would go about the museum in a similar fashion. I am also interested in thinking about whether my way of thinking has been altered from a previous state as Carr suggests, or rather, because I was born in this visual age, perhaps I have always absorbed information in this manner. Either way the discussion is an important one in that if what Carr is asserting is true, perhaps there is a way in which we can alter the system to use this way of learning to our advantage, propelling the human race to an even greater understanding of what it means to communicate with one another.