Category Archives: Science

Karen Liao: A Fresh Perspective on Photography

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Photo: Karen Liao

Photography and Text by Karen Liao, Copyright 2018

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Book Review

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Susan Sontag: On Photography

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A Fresh Perspective on Photography

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Susan Sontag’s On Photography is a highly complex, brilliant look at the development, meaning, and impact of photography on the world. The book is split into six chapters discussing various aspects of photography, and I wanted to tease out my thought processes and lessons learned regarding the relationship between morals, photography, and its effects. As someone who is currently approaching photography with a more documentarian mindset, I was shocked, but understanding of what Sontag brings to the surface about this type of photography.

Sontag starts out by describing photography as not only a “defense against anxiety”, but also “a tool of power”. However, what I’ve learned is that this tool of power does not work by purely illustrating; there are many more layers to its working. Sontag argues that photographs never purely reflect reality. Photographs will always be an interpretation of the world, because photographers impose standards on subjects of their photos. In addition, Sontag states that surrealism is pervasive and actually “the heart of photograph” because photography creates a different, designed reality that can be more dramatic than reality. She uses the examples of photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Ben Shahn being members of the Farm Security Administration photographic project in the late 1930s, and how they would take many pictures of the impoverished, but choose certain pictures that would support their own perspectives of what these subjects’ narratives should be.

In addition, we shouldn’t say that seeing a photograph will help us to understand the world more—we are simply accepting the image of whatever the camera records and having this picture fill a blank in our perception of the past and present. What’s created for us is an “exotic reality” that ranges from the bourgeois life to the poor. Photography, operating with its surrealistic core, can only collect information and bring an illusion of understanding. The camera simply makes the audience “a tourist in other people’s reality”. This ties in with the concept that Sontag brings up in later chapters about how the tendency to focus on aesthetics in photography, even in mediums that are supposed to convey distress, can neutralize the effect of the photo. She makes the harsh statement that as much as these photos create sympathy, they also “miniaturize experience, transform history into spectacle”.

All this criticism of the morals behind photography has made an impact on my thoughts as a photographer. My previous work in the class has focused on telling stories or bringing to light the issues that vulnerable populations deal with (mental health, chronic illness). For example, my chosen picture is a photograph of a dear, personal patient of mine in the hospital. As providers in healthcare, we are constantly reminded of our responsibility to be patient advocates, and I believed that this picture was powerful in the way that it photographed a real patient struggling with chronic illnesses. I wanted others to see her perspective and reality—to fight for people like her. However, Sontag’s passages have led me to understand that there are factors such as my interpretation and aestheticism, as well as the limited extent of photography to bring understanding, that inhibit me from spreading my complete message to my intended audience. Photos do not bring reality or full understanding. It was a bit disappointing at first, but I understand and agree with Sontag’s analyses. However, in the end, I have decided that it is still better to “fill that mental picture” with the “exotic reality” from photographs such as these than to never at all have exposed my audience to the pictures. There’s a risk-benefit evaluation in presenting these photos, but I believe that as long as I acknowledge the limitations of photography, the outcome of spreading this interpreted reality to others will still be better than nothing.

Finally, I wanted to end on a more positive perspective on photography. Sontag describes how the possession of a camera can evoke a feeling similar to lust. The possibilities of photography are infinite, and photographers are stuck in a cycle where the camera is both “the antidote and the disease”. Access to photography has given us awareness of the transience of everything, as well as the ability to capture all the fleeting moments. I don’t know how large of a part photography will play in my life as I advance in my career, but tasting the antidote has started the cycle for me.

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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 here:http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/karen-liao-homage-textures/

 

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

Jesse Halpern: The Bridge Between Beauty and Truth

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Trash Can

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Photography and Text by Jesse Halpern, Copyright 2018

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Book Review

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Susan Sontag: On Photography

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The Bridge Between Beauty and Truth

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My senior focus in my high school painting class was on objects that are under appreciated, things that we use daily that we do not really notice until we notice that they are not there. An outlet, or a trash can. I wanted to make these objects seem special though painting I could more easily doctor and manipulate the object to beautify. I could edit reality with painting to achieve what I wanted, something I did not think I could do with photography.

I took a gap year after high school. I went to Europe  on an art history trip with an Iphone. I had always been a luddite, never really liked technology or phones in highschool, but I wanted to document my trip, as Susan Sontag might suggest I did to prove that it happened, to have the visual evidence. Looking back through on my art history trip, the first shots were of details of places we went, untraditional angels. They were subpar photos with a few nice shots. It was entertaining so I kept taking pictures.

At Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, I Photographed a green trash can, something forgotten in the gardens. The interest in the overlooked was still with me from high school. The photos of the trash can were not interesting before editing. If I didn’t care about the subject matter I might not have even tried to edit it, but everything came together with editing when I used the noir filter and made a few minor adjustments with editing tools I didn’t fully understand yet. This moment brought about a realization that I could photography as another medium to glorify the underappreciated objects in our everyday life. It was a new medium to continue my senior thesis. I don’t think I had ever really taken a photo that I was proud of before this trash can. This was really the start of my surveying reality with a photographic eye. This is when I truly discovered the joys of photography. Phone in hand, I was on the hunt to find compositional elements that I associated with good pictures. Much like the photographer described as the surrealist in Susan Sontag’s On Photography, I now wanted to collect the world.

What compelled me the most reading Sontag  was the vastly different approaches photographers took I capturing people. Diane Arbus has a very frank manner showing the “ugly” or “deformed” but expressing in their character that they don’t see themselves. Sanders in Germany documenting people in different social classes as they are, unjudging. Walker Evans subway series, with a concealed camera and unaware viewers. Lersky’s everyday faces in 1931 finds beauty in faces of laborers. Such profoundly different truths all captured in people. Photography as described by Sontang bridges beauty and truth telling, and all these works are indicative of that. Each series showed me something about people, and each was beautiful.

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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 here:http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/jesse-halpern-porches-philadelphia/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Film, History, Photography, Popular Culture, Student Life, UPenn, UPenn Photography

Yash Killa: Night Magic

 

Photography and Text by Yash Killa, Copyright 2018

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Night Magic

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I remember when I first found out that I would be studying at University of Pennsylvania. It was soon after when I searched up Google Images of Philadelphia and the UPenn campus having never seen it earlier. What I saw was a series of photographs of the Campus and city life – but all mostly during the day time. I didn’t realise this then, but after taking the Digital Photography course, I was able to understand why and draw parallels between this and most other assignments that were mainly centred around sunlight.

The Sun provides ambient lighting that not only requires a smaller ISO number, but allows a faster shutter speed, and thus providing a greater range for a good photograph in most cases. This is why I decided to test myself and explore something that was out of my comfort zone – I decided to photograph the Penn campus at night.

I feel that any place looks and feels completely different after the sun sets. The moon and stars bring a sense of calmness, beauty, and yet strangeness that is unparalleled. Google Images just shows the hustle-bustle and vibrant nature of the campus, but what I experienced while taking photos was a complete contrast to that. It is this what I wanted to bring out in my assignment, and I hope I was able to do that.

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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. To access additional articles by Yash Killa, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/yash-killa-propaganda/

 

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Contemporary Architecture, Documentary, Environment, Photography, Popular Culture, Student Life, UPenn Photography

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, Politics, Popular Culture, Student Life, UPenn Photography, Video, Women

Karen Liao: Homage to Textures

 

Photography, Text and Video by Karen Liao, Copyright 2017

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HOMAGE TO TEXTURES

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In a world saturated with mostly visual, oral, audio, and olfactory stimulation, it is easy to forget the important, but often silent presence of tactility. I chose to center my photographs around the concept of textures because I myself was recently reminded of the secret superpowers of the tactile sense. Texture is just one aspect of what one can determine through touch; in everyday life, I believe that its presence adds an extra dimension of interest to many things. Let’s picture a simple, striped shirt—what makes it interesting to wear and touch may be that it’s silky, or if it’s furry, or even if it has beaded pearls sewn into the fabric. Texture brings that additional element to an object and can make it both more memorable and enticing.

Through my photographs, I hoped to capture the beauty and importance of textures. I think it is very fascinating that a two-dimensional photograph can encapsulate a three-dimensional aspect of sensory stimulation. This is the idea of visual texture—I love how the right lighting, angles, and settings of camera work can transform tactile texture into a piece of visual texture.

The objects that I chose were simple in structure—with the makeup of circles and rectangles—but could adequately represent important textures. Each object was something that I collected or came across during my time roaming the Philly streets, stores, and Penn campus. I felt the spikiness of a rose thorn, the slickness of the pomegranate, the furriness of my PillowPet, and more. The rough layers of the broken wall were something that I would not have noticed before, but I have come to appreciate it for its intriguing texture. These objects and scenes are put against muted backgrounds, since I wanted to pursue a more vintage style with the collection. I also considered choosing different colored textures for my photos because I wanted an element of eye-catching fun in the collection. Colors, tastes, smells, and sounds in everything around us are all exciting. But cheers to some fun textures—may we never forget about them!

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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-bare/

 

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