Category Archives: Politics

Justina McMinn: Capturing Reality

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Photo: Justina McMinn

 

Photography and Text by Justina McMinn, Copyright 2018

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Book Review

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Susan Sontag: On Photography

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Capturing Reality

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Sontag makes many important points in her essays in On Photography. The first essay, however, really connected with me. In Plato’s Cave essentially says photography is a means for capturing reality. She talks about how a photograph is tangible, you can hold it, but you can not hold reality. Although, it is capturing reality, it is not capturing reality for what it is and the reason for capturing this “reality” can vary.

Sontag also argues a point that photography is a sort of false way of relating to the world because pictures can be so flawed and falsely interpreted. Sontag claims that like the Plato’s Cave allegory, when anyone looks at a photograph it is not always entirely true without explanation. She gives an example of the Farm Security Administration photographic project of the late 1930’s where they took dozens of frontal pictures of sharecropper subjects until the were satisfied that they have gotten the right look on film. They wanted a particular emotion provoked from the photo. Problematically, they imposed their own standards onto the subject.

This reminds me of the project we did in class where we had to use portraits to convey various emotions. We all had different standards of what grief, sadness, happiness, etc. look like hence why we all had different photos. I’m sure many of us imposed our standards for what the visual aspect of these emotions should look like and shot until satisfied that it was conveyed.

I think this is an interesting point about people imposing their standards because of people’s various perspectives each photo is interpreted differently and can’t promise the viewer is understanding the photographer’s truth. For example, the picture here for me, conveys sadness. Very often within the black community, we are taught to suppress our emotions and to display negative emotions like sadness, grief, hurt, and disappointment in a particular fashion. Others may view this photo as angry, calm, emotionless, flat. Many cultural norms play into people’s standards and I believe this is what makes art, photography in particular, nuanced.

Another key point Sontag made was that photography is evidence. Photography is a huge component in museums, text books, and scrap books to further prove beyond “he say, she say” that an event took place.

Looking at today’s social norms surrounding technology, I see this idea in fruition. Every vacation people seem to feel the need to take pictures and post them to prove they had fun and that the vacation happened. There is a saying that says, “Pictures or it never happened!” Our society has become so wrapped up in the social aspect of photography. It is used to document protests, social events, personal occasions, and more. However, I would say it is excessive.

I wonder where the line is drawn. People are starting to let photography intrude on intimate events and take away from thoroughly enjoying experiences. For example, more recently, at a funeral I saw someone take a picture of the person in the casket. For me, I think it was inappropriate. However, their thought process was the person finally looked peaceful and they wanted to document it forever. Another example is my recent vacation with friends. They spent more time taking pictures and finding locations with the only motivation to go being to take more pictures. The question for me is, is enjoying the moment in reality and depending on memory less fundamental than capturing the reality and documenting it forever?

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About The Author: Justina McMinn is a Freshman enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2021. To access additional articles by Justina McMinn, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/justina-mcminn-self/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Documentary, Environment, History, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture, Student Life, UPenn, UPenn Photography, Women

Matt Garber: A Picture is Worth 140 Characters

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Cut the Middleman

Photography, Text and Video by Matt Garber, Copyright 2018

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A Picture is Worth 140 Characters 

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Among the most important political developments of the last two decades is social media. With the proliferation of these tools, politicians and public figures are able to reach their audiences directly. This has caused a massive shift in political communication.

Instead of relying on print, radio, and television media to distribute messaging, public figures may use their own voices without any of the critical analysis provided by the media. This shift in communication has led to a shift in the communicators too. Former President Barack Obama has almost 90 million followers and Twitter, and President Donald Trump is widely known for his use of Twitter, not just for gaffes, but also as an effective tool.

With the recent accidental deletion of the President’s Twitter account, it makes sense to take a new retrospective look at the ways Twitter, and Donald Trump’s use of it in particular, has come to reshape American politics.

Prior to Twitter’s ubiquity, news was consumed either in person or through journalists. Even online, journalists would post stories on their websites. This afforded the populace a critical lens through which to view the events of the day. Even though media can be slanted to the left, right, or middle, its consumption through the filter of journalism provided people an accountable source for information.

Today, users of Twitter like the president can cut out the middle man. Donald Trump makes a point of undermining traditional news sources like his so called “FAILING New York Times.” Even if news media’s business is performing better, the way the public is receiving political communication is lacking the broad lens of journalists. Donald Trump has no need to appeal to his detractors because he can reach his supporters directly.

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No Filter

Twitter also has an immediacy. No longer is it necessary that all serious thoughts be developed into considered remarks to be given in an interview, speech, or press release. The bully pulpit has transitioned from a careful podium to an edgy smartphone. Few are better known that Trump for taking this to task in haphazard Twitter rants that invigorate his supporters and alienate most everyone else.

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Make Covfefe America Again

Perhaps he does carefully consider each character. Or perhaps not. It is impossible to analyze Donald Trump and Twitter without mentioning his May “covfefe” gaffe. When the president made a silly, Scrabble-word type typo, it sparked national news because of Twitter’s speed, permanence, and social vitality. However, providing insight to his character, Trump failed to simply laugh off the incident for what it was. Instead, he defended it and attempted to appear intentional. He failed to allow himself to be a normal Twitter user who could correct the Tweet and move on.

Perhaps he does carefully consider each character. Or perhaps not. It is impossible to analyze Donald Trump and Twitter without mentioning his May “covfefe” gaffe. When the president made a silly, Scrabble-word type typo, it sparked national news because of Twitter’s speed, permanence, and social vitality. However, providing insight to his character, Trump failed to simply laugh off the incident for what it was. Instead, he defended it and attempted to appear intentional. He failed to allow himself to be a normal Twitter user who could correct the Tweet and move on.

Short and Fat

Again, demonstrating his imperfection, Trump unleashed a classic Twitter insult earlier this month. “Why would Kim Jong-Un insult me by calling me old when I would never call him short and fat?” While hardly presidential, this tweet revealed again the childishness that Twitter allows us to see. Its immediacy again provides direct access to the character of the user, and this is magnified when that user is the leader of the free world.

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Flip Flop

The major difference between the casual Twitter user and the public figure is the consequential nature of their positions. If the average joe announces a change of mind through tweet (and a change back and then forth again), we likely move on.

However, social media once again magnifies the thoughts of the president. Donald Trump’s Twitter feed is no stranger to contradiction, but it can be particularly amusing when it marks an overt flip flop. Again, without the reigning in by aides and writers afforded by formal policy announcements, Twitter can reveal the worst of an individual.

The major difference between the casual Twitter user and the public figure is the consequential nature of their positions. If the average joe announces a change of mind through tweet (and a change back and then forth again), we likely move on. However, social media once again magnifies the thoughts of the president. Donald Trump’s Twitter feed is no stranger to contradiction, but it can be particularly amusing when it marks an overt flip flop. Again, without the reigning in by aides and writers afforded by formal policy announcements, Twitter can reveal the worst of an individual.

Policy in 140 Characters

Finally, we see a striking ability of social media to influence the policy of the nation. This is the real crux of the issue. The president can judge opinion by likes rather than polls. He can decide merit by retweets rather than analysis. The jury consists primarily of the people with whom Trump interacts online. This translates into actual policies affecting actual people. It is a broken system and one magnified by the personality of this president. If we do nothing to address it, it could mean that what is popular online is what counts on the books.

While amplified by the bombastic nature of our current President, this analysis by no means ends with Trump’s term. These ideas are welcomed and fostered by Twitter’s environment. The polarization it creates among our citizenry transcends one administration. Obama was the first Twitter President. Trump will likely be the president most remembered for his Twitter. But social media is not going away, and its effects in politics will live on.

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Regarding the photographs…

Each photograph in this article is an abstract illustration of the ideas at play. Social media is an abstract, simplifying process, so in representing it photographically, the challenge became, “How abstract and simple can this be made?” If a picture is worth a thousand words, but a tweet is merely 140 (or now 280) characters, then they are awfully dissimilar. So how far can we go to bridge that gap? That is the philosophy behind the photos.

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About The Author: Matt Garber is a Freshman enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020.  To access additional articles by Matt Garber, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/matt-garber-doll/

 

Also posted in Blog, Current Events, Documentary, Environment, History, News, Photography, Popular Culture, Student Life, UPenn, UPenn Photography, Video

Karen Liao: A Privilege or Right

 

Photography, Text and Video by Karen Liao, Copyright 2018

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A Privilege or Right?

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In Trump’s America, access to healthcare is a privilege, not a right. This blunt statement is the baseline belief that underlies all of President Trump’s actions pertaining to healthcare. His attempts to pass the American Health Care Act for replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and recently signed executive order on October 12, 2017 are attacks on people’s right to healthcare. His efforts have huge impact on both access and quality of healthcare US residents may receive. With currently proposed plans, insurance companies may no longer need to offer the ACA’s ten essential benefits, which include maternity/newborn care, mental/behavioral health treatment, preventive care (screenings), prescriptions drugs, etc. Companies will also be able to charge those with pre-existing conditions higher premiums, tipping the balance of risk pools and essentially creating unaffordable insurances to be offered on the health insurance exchange. There will also be cuts in Medicaid spending starting in 2020 and reduction of ACA tax credits that provide healthcare cost subsidies for the low-income population. The CBO estimates that this will prevent around 22 million people from receiving health insurance. These cuts will also increase costs across the board, because it prevents at-risk populations from receiving preventive care and treatment for chronic diseases before progression to acute conditions requiring highly critical, expensive care. The proposed plans also allow insurance companies to charge seniors, who are at higher risk for chronic diseases and multiple morbidities, five times as much as younger Americans (it was limited to three times with the ACA). Finally, Planned Parenthood will be defunded, stripping Medicaid recipients that depend on the agency for routine checkups, family planning, and contraceptives.

Who are those that will be most negatively affected by Trump’s health policies? It will be the sickest and weakest populations in our society. As mentioned previously, these health policies will increase costs and decrease access to healthcare for those with chronic diseases, the elderly, and the low-income receiving subsidies or Medicaid expansion. The voices of these vulnerable populations deserve to be heard as decisions are being made on a political systems level. These patients, my patients, all have their own stories to share, and they want to be considered as more than numbers that Washington can casually toss around. My patients are those with chronic diseases, the elderly, and the low-income patients that all deserve their right to access to quality healthcare. Their lives in the hospital and outside of the hospital are vastly different from the rest of the world’s, and this should be shared so that everyone can better grasp what these patients need to face every day. With Trump’s policies, they would not be able to afford their current care. It’s easy to think about the newly proposed health policies in terms of tax cuts. But here are the reminders of the humanity and their experiences behind the numbers. With these stories and people in mind, we must remember—healthcare is a right, not a privilege.

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About The Author: Karen Liao is a Junior enrolled in the School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2019. To access additional articles by Karen Liao, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/karen-liao-homage-textures/

 

Also posted in Blog, Documentary, History, News, Photography, Popular Culture, Science, Student Life, UPenn Photography, Video, Women

Jesse Halpern: Walled In

 

 

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Photography, Text and Video by Jesse Halpern, Copyright 2017

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WALLED IN

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Since the early 70’s presidents have been preaching about a war on crime. From Nixon through Bush, the victor in the election was the law and order candidate. This war being waged has had no effect on the violent crime rate in America yet our incarceration rates now towers above all other countries. Americans make up 5% of the people on earth, yet the United States houses 25% of the planet prisoners.

The transformation to the system we have today is really rooted in the complex I have photographed, Eastern State Penitentiary. It transformed punishment for crimes. We move away from corporal punishment, to a serving hard time. This was the model of the American Prison, a cruel system. If you were sent to Eastern State the only thing you ever saw was your cell, lit but a thin ceiling slit, and a small exercise quarter.

Racism in the courts and policing was rampant right from the start due to a clause in the 13th amendment which gave slaves freedom except if they were imprisoned.

Race was at the center of the push for the war on crime in the 70’s in retaliation to the Civil Rights Movement. The war on drugs in particular the war on Crack Cocaine was a war on African Americans. A sentence for 1 gram of Crack was the same as the sentence for 100 grams of cocaine.

Economics continues to be at the forefront in prison policy making with a boom in the private prison industry as well as contracts for public prisons being extremely lucrative. Corporations with these contracts and the corporations that own the correctional facilities benefit from incarceration, and lobby strongly to get laws enacted on their behalf.

With Obama we saw what looked like the end to the rhetoric of being tough on crime, and to the long line of Law and Order Presidents. Presidents who enacted due mandatory minimum sentences, sextupled the budget for the DEA, and militarized our police. But in the most recent election, Hilary Clinton, running as the candidate for criminal justice reform, and to end mandatory minimum loose to Trump, a self-proclaimed Law and Order candidate.

Over 5.8 million Americans cannot vote because they have been convicted of felonies. Over 2 million Americans are currently in Jail. The system, these jail structures, do little to curb the rate of violent crimes in America.

Reforms need to be made to this broken system. The Percentage of Americans incarcerated for violent crimes in 1970 is essentially what it is today, but the percentage of Americans behind bars for nonviolent crimes has increased by about 600%.

The dilapidated walls and cells of Eastern State represent the broken state of the American Prison Industrial complex.

The series was photographed in three segments. First, in direct light in the outdoor part of the complex. Second, with indirect natural light for the interior of the building. Third, with fill flash for the cells. Heavy noise was introduced in editing to give the whole series an archival feeling, an aged feeling. I wanted to capture something sturdy yet slowly unraveling which is what I believe to be the current state of the prison industrial complex. The final image is a reflection of the first photo of the prison walls. It is meant to inspire reflection about the cruelty of our criminal justice system, and of the architectural structures that house the largest population of incarcerated people in the world.

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About The Author: Jesse Halpern is a Sophomore enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2019. To access additional articles by Jesse Halpern, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/jesse-halpern-segmented-porches-display/

 

 

Also posted in Architecture, Blog, Documentary, Environment, History, News, Photography, UPenn Photography, Video

Yash Killa: Propaganda

 

Photography and Text by Yash Killa, Copyright 2017

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PROPAGANDA

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When I was given this topic as my assignment, I knew I could go two ways about it – either go for a direct representation of propaganda by covering a protest or find some other day-to-day activity around us and transcend it into a metaphor for the idea behind propaganda.The latter is what I chose to go for. This allowed me to perceive a certain aspect of our society in a very different and unique way, and further challenged me to convince all who view the project.

Propaganda aims to change and influence people’s views, and is often misleading and biased. It is often seen directly in the form of protests or posters. It can be of political, religious, social or economic in nature, but in the crux of it, it is based on changing people’s perspectives and ideas by using certain tools like social media to spread information.

Something similar is what I see in a barbershop. People getting their hair ‘altered’ by the barbers through tools like scissors and trimmers, can be compared to people getting their views ‘altered’ by the propagandists through tools like social media and protests.

And so, for this project, I focused on taking photos that can help the viewer draw this parallel – from the picture of the trimmers, to the picture of the broom and the cut-off hair. The trimmers being the tool of the influencing, whereas the cut-off hair symbolises the fresh and unique ideas that have been tactfully removed through the process, with the broom cleaning everything at the end.

Furthermore, the final nod given by the customer using the mirrors around him portrays the susceptibility of the common man to social media and other people’s opinions, and how it is they, themselves who allow propagandists to bring an impact to their lives.

Finally, I hope the series of photographs makes this metaphor easier to comprehend and I, maybe encourage people to think more about what happens around them.

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About The Author: Yash Killa is a Freshman enrolled in the School of Arts & Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020.

 

Also posted in Blog, Current Events, Documentary, Environment, News, Photography, Popular Culture, Student Life, UPenn Photography