The Big Apple’s Magnificent Worm

“To be interesting, creative practice, including photography, for us has to mobilize complex thought processes, although without doubt it should do more than just illustrate already worked-out ideas and concepts.”

– Sara Kember and Joanna Zylinska, Life after New Media

I’d like to start off by sending a very warm thank you to HBO for putting John Oliver at the helm of “Last Week Tonight,” and giving us all the privilege of being entertained by his beautifully British snark (and face) while he leads intelligent, honest, and painfully funny discussions on pop culture and politics.

Back in the summer of 2014, an attorney for the Port Authority sent a letter to the head of the NYC based independent kitchenware store Fishs Eddy, requesting that they refrain from using the iconography of Port Authority assets on their merchandise as it “interferes with the Port Authority’s control over their own reputation.” This is clearly an absurd piece of news, but it’s exactly the kind of stuff the writers of Last Week Tonight have a field day with. And a field day they did have.


“That’s the Port Authority slogan.”

During the two-and-a-half minute bit, John Oliver mocks the Port Authority for wanting to protect a reputation that’s already terrible, especially since their most well-known entity, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, is “the single worst place on planet earth.” It also happens to be the ecology I’ll be studying for the remainder of the semester (not all of my decisions are the questionable, I promise). John asserts that PABT is so famously bad that the producers of the sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris” were safe in their move to make an entire episode revolve around how terrible the hub is because it was a joke that everyone was going to get; you don’t have to go to PABT to know you that you never want to go there.

His claims are supported not only by street interviews shown towards the end of the segment, but by the majority of people who have had the pleasure of spending time there. Hell, I agree with him too. But what can become problematic with clips that are made easily digestible to ensure virality is their ability to effortlessly perpetuate an idea that’s overgeneralized and not unique to the experiences of the individual. So yes, PABT might seem like the place where hope goes to die, but how can we know for sure if we choose only to accept the word of others instead of finding out for ourselves? This idea brought to mind a line from  from our readings thus far, featured in Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter“If we think we already know what is out there, we’ll surely miss it” (xv). 

I kept this concept close when trying to decide how I would approach the visual recording of my ecology. One of my initial concerns was finding a way to document the environment of PABT without exposing too much of my own bias through my work. If there happens to be an overflowing trash can in one of my photos, I don’t want it to seem like a forced or one-dimensional snapshot taken to showcase the obvious implications: if I show people that there’s garbage everywhere, they’ll agree that this place is gross. What I instead want to convey is the transmission of affect within the scene in a distinct moment, which is created by the inclusion of said trash can through its interactions with the objects around it. In reality, the parts within this frame are constantly changing, bringing about new connections between objects and new ways for affect to be interpreted. And while I understanding that my presence influences the environment and the photo I take is a result of my perspective, I don’t want my images to feel like they’ve been framed or manipulated to fit a certain idea. Like Kember and Zylinska, I want my creative practice to mobilize complex thought processes while doing more than just illustrating colloquial concepts.

I realize that this is so much simpler in theory than it is in execution (and the theory isn’t that simple to begin with). One thing I’ve learned about affect is that it’s very complex, so much so that even the thought of trying to capture it in a still image is daunting. A photograph has inherent limitations in regards to its representation of affect, as it’s solely a visual medium. While Teresa Brennan acknowledges that site is often the sense that people associate with the transition of affect, she notes that often,

“The clues to transmission are multisensorial, as we read affects in others by multisensorial mean…There are unseen actions with potential effects on the other, in terms of smell and touch and voice tones, as multitudinous chemical responses are unleashed through the brain and body” (165).

When viewing a photograph, you can’t hear the sounds in the environment depicted or capture its scent directly. You’re distanced from the intricacies existing within the scene and are therefore unable to fully interact with the affective experience of that captured moment. Because I want to elicit a response from those viewing my images, I can’t just rely on my natural structure of my ecology to do the work for me; the part I play in framing the scene becomes a vital role in how the viewer will connect with and understand the affect present in the scene I’m trying to capture. It really all comes down to enabling the spectators of my images to feel a closeness or familiarity with PABT by situating these traces of moments within the realm of their personal experiences and understanding, so that they’ll be equipped to form their own judgements accordingly.

And here I was thinking the photography portion of the project was going to be the easiest part.

– Kristen



~ by knc238 on October 4, 2016.

8 Responses to “The Big Apple’s Magnificent Worm”

  1. I think that your blog is one of the best overall. You engaged with the readings very thoughtfully and are very articulate. I also learned a lot about your ecology and I loved the media you presented to support your observations (plus, John Oliver is amazing!). Good job!

  2. I thought that this was best overall! The video you added was a great pull into your post. I also thought that your choice of font color for quotes created a sense of affect that was quite clever! Great quotes and insight into the readings. Thank you!!


  3. Dear Kristen, I feel that your blog post was the best overall, as you successfully related affect theory to visual forms of media. I appreciated that you used appropriate visuals that I sort of think you could use in your media ecology project, under the Works Cited webpage on your site. In particular, the GIF you included, taken from a scene in the show “Everybody Hates Chris” really highlighted your argument. In my opinion, I felt that that GIF was better than the video clip you included from “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”, as I was able to gain a lot of information on your ecology project just from that image. I agree, that I think it will be challenging to obtain images that aren’t biased, given that your personal experiences with PABT have been heavily shaped over time. I think your proposed solution sounds like a great idea, even though it won’t be “easy”.

  4. I choose your post for the best-overall title! The post strikes an excellent balance between engaging and informational- an ideal blog post in my opinion. It was also interesting to hear about your take on visual media’s correlations with the affect theories. Good luck with exploring your ecology, it should be a lot fun!

  5. Best Overall for Blogs Round 2 – You combine great visuals (block quotes, blue words, wow, and also a John Oliver video, yes) with great explanations of the readings to further your own understanding of your ecology. Good luck moving forward!

    – Kai

  6. I personally think this is the best overall. The use of the video is very engaging. Also, I like your idea of not carrying our bias while taking pictures for our project. Media can be misleading but we, as people who hold cameras should have a sense of responsibility of telling the truth.
    — Rui

  7. Best Overall: I think you give a very concret analysis of the “ignorance” we have when interactions happen through transmission of affects. You mention how people won’t be sensitive to the surrounding environment while looking at a photograph because they are fully interacting with the affective experience. I think this is a very good point. It also inspires my personal ecology project as well: do people ignore things while they are in the environment of the rushing hours?

  8. Best overall!! It’s very engaging to start with the video and John Oliver’s comments on the show, which facilitate the concrete conversation on the ecology in this specific location. And I like how you talk about bias in our visual recording, which is true and we better be conscious about. – Abby

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