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.