Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum
Focus in on this Photo: Landfill near Wasatch Mountain, Utah, 2008
Landfill near Wasatch Mountain, Utah.
There is a blue sky in the top third of the photograph. There is a snowy and mountainous background. The main area of focus seems to be a dilapidated couch surrounded by other rubbish.
In the browner areas in the foreground, there are no trees or plant life. The site appears to be a region uninhabited by humans.
Colorful bits of debris can be seen all the way in the background of the image in the snowy areas. The contrasting colors and textures of the garbage and debris create a path deep into the right side of the image, expanding the depth of the image and communicating a sense of the size of the debris area.
There are many different kinds of items in the foreground. Some of them can be identified, such as plastic and a sofa, while others cannot be identified.
There seems to be more than one layer of garbage, particularly on the left, where there is debris showing through dirt.
Build on Your Observations
Two dominant aspects of the photograph are the couch in the foreground and the mountains in the background. By providing a sense of scale, the large couch serves to focus the image and orient the viewer within an otherwise disorienting geographical terrain and pictorial space.
The textures of the couch and the cardboard, along with the large piece of plastic and white plastic, contribute to the prominence of these objects, which are in contrast to the smaller items.
From the haphazard position of these items and the way they jut out at different angles, we understand the landscape is uneven.
The placement of objects is unplanned.
Because there are items that can be identified and items that cannot be identified, it shows that this area is used for a wide variety of types of garbage. Some of the types of garbage break down faster than others.
The different layers show that there is a lot of garbage in this landfill, and that this area may have been used for some time with more recently added items near the top.
The title indicates this is a landfill in Utah. Some of the areas appear covered by dirt, but much of it appears uncovered. Some of the items in the foreground appear to be disintegrating somewhat, while other objects remain largely intact. This indicates that some garbage breaks down faster than others. The varying layers seem to show that garbage has been added to the landfill over time.
Formulate Further Questions
How are sites designated for landfills? Are there different types?
How are these sites monitored?
Where is the garbage from, who brought it, and how did they get it here?
What percentage of the trash might instead have been recycled?
What is the impact of landfills on the environment?
How long does it take different items to break down in a landfill?
3.4 Focus in on this Photo: Comparison of unsprayed conventional cotton crop and Bt GM cotton in Australia
3.5 Focus in on This Photo: Migratory Mexican field worker’s home on the edge of a frozen pea field. Imperial Valley, California
Unit 1 A Closer Look Video
This introduction to the course models the process of analyzing photographs with teachers and students. Photography historian Makeda Best discusses the Focus In method with teachers, and educator Julie Keefe employs the method with students at a photography exhibit on "light and dark." Photography curator at the Portland Art Museum, Julia Dolan discusses how she carefully selects a set of photographs to tell a larger story.