Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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My street photography project is centered on a cultural encounter I personally experienced when I moved from Manhattan to Bushwick, Brooklyn. Bushwick has a particular duality about it; there is a rugged, industrial ambience as well as a palpable artistic presence. This conflict within the neighborhood, the constant juxtaposition of art and industry, inspired me to shoot there. I looked to unify the series of photographs by portraying the above-mentioned conflict in its purest, most literal sense. In many pictures I have divided the composition of the shot into two different parts, one showcasing an artistic mural and another capturing the ramshackle houses and uncared for sidewalks. In others, I simply show how art encroaches upon dilapidated buildings and street corners, which illustrates the dynamic of the neighborhood.
To coalesce my series of photographs, I kept within a certain color range. My images are predominately red, blue, or white. While I was shooting, I didn’t intentionally seek out these specific colors, but as I was editing and assembling my final pictures I realized a trend. Much of the neighborhood is grey and drab, however several buildings are red brick. It seemed that the street artists whose work I was photographing preferred to decorate these red brick buildings. Also, as I edited my images and saturated the color, the grey that is characteristic of Bushwick turned into a subtle cyan blue. The white found in certain shots is derived purely from the cloudy sky or the white brick backdrop of a single building that I shot. Ironically, these are the three colors of the American flag.
In addition, many of the pictures have implicit vertical lines running through the center. This is meant to subtly remind the viewer of the conflict between art and industry by creating a visual separation between the right-hand side and left-hand side of the photograph. In the same way, certain pictures show a direct juxtaposition of poverty and art. For instance, in an alleyway I shot a picture of a ransacked car positioned in front of a red wall covered in airbrush painting. It was difficult to take this shot because the alleyway was very small, and for quite a while I was unable to situate my camera in a way that would capture both the car and the artwork. I was finally able to accomplish this by standing on a small trashcan and zooming all the way out. I had many similar difficulties wherein trucks or vans would block the artwork that I sought to photograph. I had to wait many hours for the trucks to move so I could capture the image.
After I had finished shooting, I reviewed my work and found nothing to my liking. The graffiti that had looked so vibrant did not seem to translate to my digital photographs. I realized that the only method by which I could salvage my pictures was to enhance them via Photoshop, although this is unorthodox among photographers like Jeff Mermelstein who believe in “realism of the photograph.” Nevertheless, I enhanced the color and applied a technique called “tilt-shift.” By creating a mask over the image and then applying a gradient blur, I achieved the effect of depth of perception. I applied this to many of the photographs in the set, but it is most apparent in “The Toy Car.” A tilt-shift can occasionally make the objects in the image seem miniaturized; hence the name, “The Toy Car.” By making the pictures look like toy models I hoped to capture the dreamlike atmosphere of Bushwick. I also think that the depth of my photographs, although unnatural, is important as symbol of the undiscovered complexity within the neighborhood.
However, some of my photos are unedited. I shot many pictures of signs and posters that have a very strong message. The neighborhood is not closely supervised, so almost anyone can post anything they like. As I was reviewing my photos I found several signs that were peculiar. In particular, I had shot one sign that was posted on the side of a factory garage; it read “STOCK CRASH IMMINENT.” It seemed odd that a warning about the stock market should surface in Bushwick, where not many residents are stockholders. I then realized that the sign had not been put up by the permanent residents, but by the transient artists who had created many of the graffiti murals. This is germane to my theme of art in contrast with industry because the artist’s economical warning posted on the outside of the factory has absolutely no influence on the workers inside. I think that this is the chief challenge facing Bushwick in the future.


1 Rachel { 11.19.08 at 5:07 am }

Mark, I love your project. It is really interesting how you juxtapose the factory workers’ culture next to the new artsy culture. I also like how you edited your images with photoshop. I can tell that you worked really hard on this project and enjoyed doing it to. It was apparent that your heart was in these pictures. Great job.

2 Keyana { 11.21.08 at 12:40 am }

I agree with Rachel 100%. Usually people in a sense discredit those who edit their pictures, but I really loved your images and the fact that you chose to edit them. The vibrant color and techniques you applied really gave each image a wow factor. The murals and grafitti on the walls and buildings were so intricate and simply beautiful, so thank you for capturing that.

3 Anna { 11.26.08 at 8:21 pm }

I love how you chose to position and work on your theme of the clash between the industrial and artistic presence in your neighborhood. Just like Keyana commented, people discredit those who edit their pictures but people also discredit grafitti as an art. The grafitti artwork that you captured were eye-catching and beautiful.

4 Abdul Siddiqui { 12.02.08 at 3:23 am }

First one to upload, eh? Think your hot stuff, eh? Well, in all seriousness, I truly enjoyed your presentation Mark. It was uplifting to see the photographer and the photoshop artist mix so nicely. I’m glad you used photoshop to recreate some of the colors because pictures may get one close to being at the place, but there is still a degree of separation. I like how you tried to, and successfully, bridged that gap. Kudos.

5 Viorika Rybak { 12.08.08 at 5:18 pm }

Mark, I really really liked your project. I thought your presentation was excellent. The graffiti in your pictures was more of an art form than the graffiti we usually see on the sides of buildings. The fact that you photoshopped it just brought out the beauty of it. Very creative and very colorful. I love it! =)

6 Vince { 12.10.08 at 2:31 am }

Great job man, i was very impressed with the quality of your street photography presentation. I also liked how we both had different views on graffiti and what not. It’s nice sometimes that we show both sides of the spectrum. You might not know what im referring to but all in all great job. lol

7 Vince { 12.10.08 at 2:32 am }

oh i forgot something. i loved how u used the “vertical line” to divide the artwork. GENIUS!

8 Jeff { 12.10.08 at 2:44 am }

I was actually curious about what the colors looked like before the Photoshopping, but in the end I decided that it worked out really well and a cat killed my curiosity. I applaud your Photoshop skills.

9 Jack { 12.12.08 at 1:39 am }

I found the door in front of the factory very appealing. It not only created an illusion that it was an entrance but also convinced me that graffiti can be a form of art. Though we are limited by the digital camera, you made an artistic decision to change the texture of the photograph that succeeded to draw the attention of the audience. Well done!

10 Yuriy Minchuk { 12.12.08 at 8:23 pm }

I think this project was very well crafted and thought out. I love the way you found symbolism in all of this graffiti, and portrayed it as an artistic form rather than vandalism. You are very creative. Great job!