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Dualities in Society and Nature

Dualities in Society and Nature

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Published by Dustin Cassell

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Published by: Dustin Cassell on Dec 04, 2010
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Cassell 1Dualities in Nature and Society11/30/10Dustin Casselldcassell@physicsforums.com
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” - Oscar Wilde
It is funny how one can feel so alone lost in a city, yet feel so connected by the simple presence of another in the most remote and desolate region of the world. Cities almost seem to be a Mecca for vagrant vagabonds, as known as the the homeless, or even the “Urban Nomad”(Hoff). One wonders, who are these familiar strangers, where do they come from, and as theartist/photographer R. Andrew Hoff asks, “Where do they go?” With just one photograph, R.Andrew Hoff captures the quintessence of a city's unconscious – no, of a city's alter-ego; arepresentation of a people who are seemingly invisible until one looks juxtaposition out the
Cassell 2corner of their eye. In what follows, I will analyze what is seen in Hoff's photograph, compareand contrast the work with another, address the artist's statement, and describe my experience atthe Susquehanna Art Museum.The first thing that is noticeable about the work of art is, that it is a photograph – specifically of a sidewalk in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This particular sidewalk houses not onlythe usual suspects – dumpsters, dirt, and the delicately designed diminution of urban decay, butalso an urban nomad's bed and belongings. This urban nomad's bed and belongings are foundmedially “between two dumpsters” (Hoff). On top of the pile seen in the photograph is whatappears to be tawdry underlinings, stacked upon more clothing and other assorted fabric.Although this is a photograph, does it really correspond to the visible world? Not really, andabsolutely. Are these nomads hermetic in nature, like most people? No, their belongings areclearly out in the open. But how then are their private lives able to evade the common worker rushing to and from work? The answer may not reside in the urban nomads themselves, butrather within ourselves. Perhaps we are just too busy or do not care. Or perhaps we have justforgotten the forlorn, forgotten to look out the corner of our eyes. So yes, the photographabsolutely corresponds to the visible world – a world that resides just beyond our visible horizon – a world most have forsaken, and yet it exists all around us. How else can one explain a bed of an urban nomad set up right behind the “Dauphin County Human Services Building?” (Hoff).Artists that distinctively use photographs as their medium sometimes use elements e.g.lines, shape, color, or movement to enhance the effect and meaning they are trying to portray. Togenerate these effects, occasionally the artist will “stage their photographs” (Sayre 264).However Hoff explicitly says in his statement “I almost feel a voyeuristic guilt looking downinto the bedroom of this person; but they are not there.” So in this case, it does not appear the photograph was staged, and therefore it most certainly can not be assumed that it was. On the
Cassell 3other hand, an artist that does not stage their photograph can however manipulate the angle,distance, and time of day.Markedly, the angle is almost awkward. Instead of a direct head on picture, or even a“widescreen” portrayal which would encompass both dumpsters and the urban nomad's belongings, the shot is again, taken at that very awkward angle. The distance is also interesting,almost as if the artist either respects the resident's land ownership or is afraid to get too close, or  perhaps it is simply a matter of being the only possible way to capture the entire scene. Finallyas sincerely stated by Hoff, “They walk the streets of the city during the day or sit on stoops... Atnight they seem to melt into the shadows of the city. Where do they go?” Clearly according tothe artist, the only time to really observe the urban nomad is during the day, and yet they arenowhere to be seen in the picture.The artist's message emerges both from the photograph itself and from the statementaccompanying it. My personal interpretation of this disconsolate duo is that it embodies a side of humanity that can only exist hidden in the alleyways – only thrive out in the open, in the capitalsand epicenters of humanity. A duality at it's ugliest. One study estimates the number of homeless in America is approximately 2.3-3.5 million, with the recession aggressivelythreatening to increase that number by another 1.5 million over a two year period (PBS). It isthis duality of how a problem can be so brazenly apparent, so right in front of our faces, and yetit absconds to an abysmal reality every night. While most go back to their homes forgetting theforsaken – those urban nomads that “seem to melt into the city's shadows” sleep beneath the starsevery night (Hoff).A similar duality can be seen in Alfred Stieglitz's photograph from 1907, “The Steerage”(Sayre 261). But unlike Hoff's photograph which has no people or sense of movement,Stieglitz's is the exact opposite – it depicts a scene on a steamship where very little free space

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