Photo walk: On being discarded

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the morning of Sept. 1, 2012, I went on a self-assigned photo walk on the Fresno State campus. I wanted to collaborate again with my friend Joseph Edgecomb, who previously made photographs with me in the Mural District and at the Big Fresno Flea Market. Neither of us had been on a photo walk for quite a while, so we were both a bit rusty in the idea department. My wife suggested trash as the theme; Joseph and I then chose the university as the location because we thought the juxtaposition of trash and higher learning might yield some unexpected results.

This was the first photo walk I’ve done since taking a series of photography and graphic design classes last year at Fresno City College. I learned a lot in those four classes, including basic manual controls in a digital camera and also basic adjustments in Photoshop. I made all of my exposures in the field this time using manual settings, and I then spent quite a bit of time processing the pictures in Photoshop’s “camera raw” converter, which works with a data-rich file format that preserves the full range of each photograph’s original color and detail. My final photos had only minimal touch-up work done on them in Photoshop itself; most of my adjustments– for color, white balance, exposure, brightness, contrast, etc.– came via the camera raw converter.

Check out Joseph’s beautiful gallery to compare and contrast with mine.

Our first discovery about the trash theme was that many of our photographs turned out to be small detail shots. Usually, we both like to push each other to look up, look down, and look all around while making pictures. But this assignment really had us focused on the ground, which I think forced us to work harder on composition, perspectives, and lighting in ways that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I also noticed that there’s an awful lot of trash of all shapes, colors, and sizes– especially cigarette butts and empty cups– just about everywhere. You might think that the ubiquity of trash would make it an easier subject, but for me it actually had the opposite effect. While looking through the viewfinder, I was constantly questioning myself about what would make a particular scene or piece of trash worthy of a picture. It forced me to really think about what kind of story I was trying to tell with the photos I was making.

The biggest thing I found, though, was a feeling of loneliness while walking around the campus. Joseph, as a former student, and I, as both a former student and former instructor, each have bittersweet feelings about the university and its place in both our own lives and in the community. On one hand, the campus, which is well-known nationally as a living arboretum, exudes a physical beauty that I think is truly stunning in its power and grace. Yet, when the physical turns to the intellectual, the campus also stirs feelings in me of corruption, scandal, rejection, and loss.

While photographing trash, the discarded detritus of everyday life, Joseph and I walked the entire campus with our heads down, searching for our subjects. In doing so, I realized for the first time that my connections with Fresno State– strong since I was a kid, but tempered and more complex as I grow older– will never be quite the same. It felt a little mournful.

2 thoughts on “Photo walk: On being discarded

  1. Great compositions Jefferson! I really admire this assignment – photos like this are hard to make, very hard to frame. And thank you for the blog post, very meaningful as well. It’s interesting that you would pick this photo assignment on this particular campus, with all its hidden meanings.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Gosia! The choice of theme and location was on-the-spot, as we wanted to get in on the last of the morning’s golden hour. It was good to push ourselves on something spontaneous.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s