Waste Land Movie Post

Watching Waste Land was, if nothing else, a conflicting experience. While the movie was enjoyable to watch, the themes that are explored are far from light-hearted. With such an interesting creative process and heavy subject matter involved in the artist’s work, I was left unsure of what to think about the pickers, artist and documentarians involved in the story.


As with all documentaries, it is difficult to tell how much of the footage has been cut and manipulated for the sake of keeping the viewer interested (a feat at which this movie is exceedingly successful). Because of the quick and upbeat editing of the movie, it is easy to forget that the footage is shot over a long period of time. Not everything happens so quickly as the audience experiences it, as all of the mundane stuff in between has been filtered out for the sake of time. What is left over is not a complete record of the events that took place, but a story that has been constructed out of elements carefully selected by the filmmakers to fabricate a continuous and easy to follow plot line.


Regardless of exactly how true Waste Land is in its depiction of the lives of the pickers, one thing that resonates noticeably throughout the film is Vik Muniz’s own description of art and life that he discusses with his chosen pickers (picker posse?).With his group gathered together, Muniz discusses the way people view art in a gallery, by zooming in and out, and how stepping back and viewing a painting as a whole reveals a chaotic bigger picture while leaning in gives the viewer insight into its parts. Not only do his portraits of people made from recyclable materials definitely reflect this concept as he explained it, but this scene also seems to have been placed in the film specifically as a metaphor to the story of the pickers. This is a view that seems to be forced onto the audience, and the viewer must trust that the filmmakers have “zoomed in,” and depicted the pickers’ lives in a way that truly helps outsiders to understand their lifestyle. The filmmakers seem to be trying their hardest to direct the audience to believe that they are fully experiencing the story in an up close and personal fashion, but because the implication that they are making in this scene is so frank, it is difficult not to wonder if one should just take their world for it or if it has been placed there as a way to build conviction in the audience.


The memory of that scene kept coming back to me as I watched the rest of the movie, noticing a few things that made me wonder about the true motivations of the documentarians. While I am fairly certain that they all mean well, and very certain that such a sizeable donation was indeed very good for the Pickers’ Association, one thing that I noticed in addition to this was the exposition of the pickers, which seemed to be above and beyond the “normal” amount of exposition that takes place in a documentary film. While the film was enjoyable, and I would say that the overall effect is far more positive than negative, it continually begs the question of whether or not it is too exploitative. While all documentaries are at least to a degree exploiting its subject(s), something about this movie made me a bit uncomfortable regarding the way that the filmmakers seemed to be using the pickers purely as a tool for an interesting story. In part, this feeling arose from an overall vibe that made me feel as if the film was serving a purpose mainly to the makers of the documentary. Although the Pickers’ Association as well as the individuals involved of course benefitted from the sale of the art works, they were still required to go back to their lives in the landfill – this in contrast to the filmmakers, who would have had the ability to leave the landfill at will. The degree to which the people featured in the documentary seemed to be used like clinical study subjects begs the question of whether these people really were subjects of beautiful art or if they were simply treated as objects of interest to be picked up and examined for as long as they hold interest to the audience, only to once again be cast away like garbage? I do not feel that the actions of the artist and documentarians are wrong in and of themselves – the auction money gained from the artworks produced is of course a wonderful thing to present to the facility, but the way that the characters in the movie are presented causes me to question the filmmakers’ motives. Do they really care about the people, or are they only using them for their interesting and “exotic” backstories? Is it just another exhibition of poverty to be viewed with interest but ultimately ignored by the higher classes? The fact that the art was being sold to a bunch of rich people who are essentially benefiting from the toiling of the pickers could easily be seen as another way that these people are being treated as objects themselves. It is as if they are merely a spectacle for luckier people such as ourselves to observe through the eyes of director Lucy Walker and artist Vik Muniz. 


I don’t like ending on such a critical note, however. I would like to note that I truly enjoyed the film despite its exploitative undertones. Walker and company obviously put together an extremely compelling bit of journalism that probably does deserve all of the awards it has garnered. 

Robert Adams Post

In the video, Robert Adams discussed his landscape work and mentioned the difficulties of landscape photography, especially seascapes. This is something that I am glad to hear even professional photographers struggle with. I was specifically impressed with the seascape photos as I have never been able to take a display-worthy photo of the ocean and am now inspired to try again.

Something that I like about some artists, including Robert Adams, is that he seems to excel at depicting busy natural scenes in a way that has always eluded me. I am still unsure of how to take an interesting picture of a forest or other area with lots of sharp lines and detail without it becoming cluttered, but Robert Adams’ photos seem to accomplish that task. That is definitely something that I would like to look into.

On a different topic, looking at many of Robert Adams photos that depict deforestation inevitably lead me to compare his art to the topic of my own tree-related project. Although the work itself is very different (and far more professional), the concept behind it is dear to my own heart. Trees matter, and much of Adams’ exploration of the Northwest asserts that.

Given that I enjoy his work, there is also a kind of cliche nature specifically about the photos of deforestation. Although I am sure he likely “did it first” while others followed suit, my initial reaction to dramatic photos depicting felled trees is similar to what I generally feel about the old pet adoption commercials that would show sad photos of dogs and cats while Mariah Carey music played in the background. Even though the cause is admirable and the shots themselves are captivating, there is still an air of staleness to those types of images – the kind who’s purpose is immediately apparent and is supposed to force you into an emotional reaction. This particular response from me is likely not Adams’ fault, as many others have come after him and also taken many stock-type images on the topic of deforestation with the intention of grabbing attention on an important environmental matter. The importance of the topic does not make photos of it any less common, but the purpose behind it is morally upstanding and admirable.

Despite all of that, one thing that can’t be said about Robert Adams’ work is that it is stock photo-esque. Even though the topic has been done and done again, I don’t think that any photos I have seen have been able to depict the problem in quite the same way. Robert Adams seems to have achieved a level of uniqueness in his work that most have not. I am not sure how rare it was to have shown photos of environmental destruction back in his day, but I assume that his photos could only have helped drive the movement forward and spread awareness about an important subject.

The bottom line is that I enjoyed his work and loved what I saw of his book “Turning Back” (especially the tree photos)!




Final Project Progress

This week I added a few tree photos to my collection that I would like to use for my magazine.

I also was able to put together a few pages of my magazine. From this point on, I will likely be using mainly photos that I have already taken and will only be adding new ones when I find that there is a gap in the types of images I need for the magazine. I have begun to organize the way that I want my magazine to be put together, although I haven’t settled on a definite organization just yet, so I only have a lose idea of that.

One thing that I have changed from my original idea is that rather than having an informational, text-heavy type magazine, I want to focus more on the aesthetic qualities of trees. This is in major part because I have not been able to travel around Southern California as much as I would like, and so feel that my magazine would be noticeably incomplete if my goal where to educate readers about the various types of trees in our area as I will be unable to include many of the types that are common in Southern California. I would have liked to basically create a pleasant-to-look-at index of Southern Californian trees, but perhaps that will have to wait for another time. It seems that my project will instead look a little more like what I have below, perhaps highlighting certain general types of trees, but definitely with less focus on text-based communication:

In summary, I have mostly met the same goals for the week as posted on my timeline previously by deciding on a loose organization (probably by general color or topic, as in leaves go with leaves and bluish things go with other blueish things, etc.), deciding that there will be more images and less writing than I originally intended and lastly found that I have almost all the images I need already.

Desert X Artist Post

I chose to write about Norma Jean’s Desert X installation “Shy Bot”. I was initially intrigued by the idea of an earth rover with a semi similar appearance to NASA’s Mars rovers. I was even more interested to find, however, that instead of collecting data, the rover’s function is to do nothing at all for the advancement of human kind, but to avoid it completely. The rover – Shy Bot – is programmed to avoid human contact and will “run away” if it senses the presence of a person.  I found this installation interesting not only because of its function (or dysfunction as the case may be), but also because of its paradoxical nature.

Shy Bot is designed to avoid human contact, but is rigged up with a system that shares its location and viewpoint remotely with (human) viewers. It seems that in its purpose of not serving humans, it has also become an object that is monitored and enjoyed exclusively by humans. In the artist’s mission to create a piece designed to be indifferent to the progress of our species, she has also produced something that exists solely for the enjoyment of people (if only for entertainment purposes). Additionally, in programming Shy Bot to “run away” from people, Norma Jean has personified an inanimate object that has come into existence only through planning and building that humans have done. This sort of art statement stands out to me as a comment on the prevalence and omnipresence of humans on earth and how there is evidence of our existence everywhere. Even in places where there are no humans physically present, our projects, structures, litter and art serve as a kind of graffiti or carving that states “we were here” in big, bold letters. Her piece seems to point out how everything that we produce or change has our mark on it, so much so that there is no longer a clear line that can be drawn between humans and human invention. Perhaps Shy Bot is Norma Jean’s way of saying that humans are not only a part of the world, but that the world and its contents have become a human-serving mechanism.

Final Project Timeline

Tree Magazine Timeline

April 5th

  • have most of the images needed to compile magazine (shoot, gather & organize)
  • decide on organization for pages
  • decide how much writing there will be in the magazine based on the number of images that will be included


April 12

  • put together 5-10 pages for the magazine (final page count ~20)
  • create draft cover for the magazine
  • decide which images might be accompanied by writing (and what to write about)
  • start writing bits for the magazine and any captions/labels for photos


April 19th

  • put together 5-10 more pages for the magazine (final pages count ~20)
  • write drafts for any bits that may have larger articles/blurbs


April 26th

  • put together remaining pages for magazine
  • edit writing drafts
  • fix layout problems
  • go over work so far to make changes
  • troubleshoot


May 3rd

  • general finalization of magazine
  • last minute stuff
  • order physical copy for self


May 10th

  • present PDF


Joshua White’s Survey of the American Yard

One of the works that I felt was particularly interesting was Joshua White’s Survey of the American Yard. I like it in part because of the interesting, pseudo-scientific type of appearance which reminds me of antique text books or nature sketches from the 1800s, but I think that I like it mainly for the sense of wonder and curiosity that the series represents. While I probably wouldn’t feel a need to photograph dead animals myself, I think that the series as a whole is a whimsical exploration of easily obtainable natural objects that don’t always get too much individual attention despite their wide availability. I also connect with the child-like aspect of White’s idea of a back yard collection since as an adult I still feel compelled to collect items that catch my eye and am very much inclined to document those items (if not keep them). As a kid I used to collect rocks, leaves and anything small that struck my fancy. I also often captured small critters such as lizards and gardener snakes for very short amounts of time (often they were released within the hour) and have raised a few things like tadpoles and caterpillars from their beginning stages until adulthood (not that I necessarily condone this behavior). Joshua White’s similar enthusiasm for collection, observation and documentation appeals to me in the same way that quartz rocks or exploding fungi or the metamorphosis of tadpoles did when I was little. As many people probably had a similar desire to collect and observe natural objects in childhood, White’s work likely appeals to many people in part because of the emotions that are associated with odds and ends found outdoors. Objects that are captured and photographed with such care are not only aesthetically pleasing but are also imbued with a strong sense of sentimentality – a sense which I pick up on from personal experience. Whether the artist actually experiences affection for the subjects of his work, I of course cannot know, but my personal reaction is to feel connected to the objects in a similar fashion to the way that I connect with my own collected items. A collection of any kind of item, whether it’s kept or only documented, seems as if it holds on the some of the spirit of the location where it was collected or carries memories of the experiences surrounding the time that it was gathered.

Spring Break Assignment

Over the break I decided to do a couple of different things for my magazine project. The first thing I did was take two sets of tree-related night photos.

Secondly, I decided to take a set of tree pictures with black and white film.

I have a few more ideas left for my magazine photos, but I intend to begin focusing on layout and writing very soon so that I will know what gaps will need to be filled image-wise.