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Image Deconstruction

La Boca Rooftop. Buenos Aires, Argentina. December, 2005
Canon 5D with 24-105mm f/4L IS lens @ ISO 400

I do photography for several reasons. One of the strongest is that it helps me pay close attention and be more intensely involved in the world around me. Another is that it allows me (indeed affords me the opportunity) to travel the world and experience what it has to offer. A third, and by no means lesser motivation, is that I get to share my manner of seeing the world with others through my photographs.

Recently there was an item in the newspaper about how one of the large New York museums was holding art analysis sessions for detectives of the NYPD. The concept was that by analyzing paintings (especially those from the Renaissance) the powers of observation that forensic investigators need could be honed – the premise being that analyzing art was not that dissimilar to crime scene investigation.

With these as background, I thought that it would be interesting to look at just one of my recent photographs and, rather than critique it for its artistic merits (such as they may be), to look at what this particular image has to tell us about a particular time and place.

Before proceeding, why not scroll your screen so that only the photograph shows, and not the text below? Spend a few minutes looking closely at it (or better yet, click on it for a larger version on a page by itself). Once you've figured out as much as you can (or have become bored with the exercise) continue on to the text below.

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La Boca Rooftop

The photograph was taken on a street in the La Boca district of Buenos Aires. This is a rough-and-tumble neighborhood near the docks, and though it has a small tourist area with cafes and brightly painted store fronts, for the most part it's not a place that one would feel safe walking about, especially taking photographs. Because I was with three other people, and we restricted ourselves to a walkway along the edge of a canal that was in open public view, we felt safe enough to shoot there. On three occasions though, as we wondered onto other streets, locals actually came up to us and warned us that we should turn back, otherwise we risked being robbed, mugged, or worse.

As we walked the canal this image presented itself and I took a couple of frames.

Here then is what a close examination of the image, a deconstruction – if you will, tells me about the subject.

– The building is clearly old, and the large signs on the roof indicate that it must have once been a commercial or industrial site. The fact that these signs are faded also indicates that the area is no longer in the mainstream, and that the signs themselves have likely been abandoned. The fact that the apartment visible is clearly a residence tells us that the function of the building has changed over time, likely as the center of the city, or at least this neighborhood, moved on, leaving the area to deteriorate and change focus.

– The boy on the roof is cleanly dressed, mostly in white. Though the building is gritty, the boy isn't. The fact that he's facing away from the street and the rooftop view may mean that he is familiar with it and often finds himself on this vantage point. Possibly it's where he goes to be alone. The fact that we can not see his face contributes to an impression of loneliness, though this may simply be in our perception rather than a reality.

– The apartment balcony tells us a lot. The bicycle is likely the boy's, and the fact that it's hanging up and not downstairs available for use, may tell us something about the boy's isolation. The blue bassinet likely means that there is another child, a baby in the family. And finally, the bird cage with parakeets implies a family involved with its children

Now, you read the above and think – what a crock! But, there's the stuff of a human story here, and however you might interpret what you see there is a story. It's just up to us to discover it, if it interests you, and if you care to.

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The Value

You may wonder why this analysis is worthwhile, and rightly so. But I believe that it is through such analysis that one gains insight into what attracted me to the scene in the first place, and why I decided to capture its image. Clearly this isn't simply a pretty picture, or a geometric design, where form and colour dominate over subject. Indeed it would be much "grittier" if converted to B&W, but I feel that would lose something in the process.

Why not try this process of deconstruction with one of your own photographs? Then, ask someone else with an interest in your work to do the same.

You may find the results not only interesting, but also a stimulus to your work.

Place your mouse over the above image to view it in B&W

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Concepts: La Boca, Buenos Aires, Tell, Roof, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Entities: La Boca, New York, NYPD, Michael Reichmann

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