John Johnson hw1 Michael Kenna “Steam Rising”

1.  This photograph is a black and white photograph of two buildings in New York City and the sky above them.  It is taken from a low position looking up into the buildings with the lower building in the foreground and the higher building in the background.  There is steam rising both in front, on the sides, in back, and above the background building.  It creates a sort of “halo” effect above the background building.  This is basically a realist photograph, with the steam adding some transcendent elements.

2.  My guess is that the photographer wanted to portray what these two buildings look like from a lower perspective, and what they look like when steam is rising around them.  I would guess that they wanted to convey a stark lonely image, with a sense of beauty, but also with a sort of mysterious look about them.  The halo may convey some religious or transcendent elements.  The photographer might be trying to make a statement about these buildings having of a sort of important or quasi religious important element about them.  Either that, or they may be trying to say that simple steam dwarfs these mighty buildings, or adds to their sense of grandeur.  But more than anything else, I think the photographer is simply trying to show how beautiful a simple image such as this, with steam being the additional factor, can be.  It could be a metaphor for the stark raw menacing beauty of the city.

3.  The photographer I think was trying to emphasize the dark starkness of the buildings,as contrasted with the bright halo of the steam.  He has done this by using a backlit scene which keeps the building dark, and the white steam bright.  The light seems to be directional diffused, with soft-edged shadows, or contours around) the steam.  The steam slowly blurs into the sky around it.  The back light creates a silhouette of the buildings, making them very dark against the steam and sky.  There are three basic tones.  The buildings are very dark.  The steam is bright white, and the sky is a sort of dark grey.  There seems to be a sort of selective focus, with the buildings very focused, and the background of steam and sky less focused.  This creates a mysterious contrast.  The two buildings seem claustrophobic and close together because of the low level point of view of the shot.  The most important form is the bright mysterious steam.

4.  Technical matters help the photograph.  The low level angel of the shot adds to its mysteriousness.  The backlit aspect makes the buildings seem dark and imposing, and the steam to be holy.  The silhouette makes the buildings look more imposing and mysterious as well.  The glowing light of the steam makes it look more dramatic.  The contrast in tones makes the images more dramatic.  The buildings looking close together makes the scene more intense and dramatic.  They therefore, are interacting with each other more.  It is more of  a relationship.

5.  The graphic elements are not only important in this photograph, they are basically almost the whole photograph, and the whole point of it, I believe.  If the point of it is to show drama, intensity, mysteriousness, and the starkness of the city, the graphic elements are what makes this all happen.  One looks at the buildings first, then the mysterious steam surrounding them. One looks at the bottom of the lower building, and then one’s eyes go upwards to the top of the second building.  The three tones make for the contrast and the drama.  the darkness of the lower building adds a menacing edge to the photo.  The white steam creates a sort of religious theme to them.  (Is the cities true religion commerce, as reflected in these buildings, with the steam being the ‘incense?’  The line going up makes a sort of worshipping quality to the buildings.  The shallow space creates intensity and drama.

6.  As already stated, I believe that this photograph could be a statement about the state of the city, and the role of commerce and religion in them.  The steam creates a holy atmosphere much beyond what simple steam usually represents.  This is what creates the beauty of the photograph.

7.  The photograph induces awe, and a sense of  mystery.  It makes one want to figure out its mysteriousness, and to try to figure out the mystery of the images.  Overall, I would say it creates both a sense of mystery and religion.

8.  This photograph definitely relates to the others in this series.  Many of the others also deal with images of the city, such as the bridges.  Many of the others also create a sense of awesomeness to them.  They also use black and white, with three contrasting tones, of dark, grey and white.  They also use dark shadows creating by the natural back lighting, and one of them, “Empire State Building from Twin Towers Viewfinder”, also uses the “halo” effect around a building.  Many of them such as , “Chrysler Building, Study 1”, uses this same low level point of view, looking up at the building.  Many of them, such as “Empire State Building, Study 3”, have the buildings in large dramtic silouhettes.  So the photographer seems to like photographing black and white photos of the city, with no humans visible, and lots of shadows, with three basic tones.  He likes to shoot from unconventional angles, and create drama with simple lighting and images.  The photography is all realistic, but creates sort of transcendent and unworldly atmosphere at the same.  It might be called “urban landscape”, but with transcendent elements.

1 Comment

Filed under Homework, hw1

One Response to John Johnson hw1 Michael Kenna “Steam Rising”

  1. Your description of the photograph is excellent. The low angle is key to understanding this shot. Generally, if you want something or someone to look more important or more imposing, shoot it from a low angle. The one thing that surprised me though when I looked up the photo and saw it after reading your description, is how symmetrical it is. The two buildings are perfectly centered in the frame. This adds to the sense of the buildings as monumental and unmoving. Despite the fog in the image, I don’t think Kenna has any religious intention. I think his main interest is in using form to make two ordinary buildings look beautiful and majestic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *