You are on page 1of 9

Park 1

Hyemin Park
Darren Zufelt
English 357
12 March, 2014
Analysis Christopher Morriss photo essay Grit, Grime and Graffiti
New York City is one of the most popular cities in the United States. As the home of
the United Nations Headquarters, New York is an important center for international diplomacy
and plays a significant role in various global industries and culture. However, in 1980s, New
York was a very different place from today. At that time, it had a reputation for being a crime-
riddled and dirty metropolis throughout America and the world. These aspects are well shown
and depicted in Christopher Morriss photo essay, Grit, Grime and Graffiti: Christopher Morris
on the New York Subway, 1981, published by Time magazine in 2014.
As an American photojournalist and a Time contract photographer, Christopher Morris
is well known for his photographs of war. Morris lately re-discovered his previously
unpublished shots when he read an interview with famous graffiti artist (Morris). Looking back
through his archive, Morris decided to publish a photo essay to depict how New York City
looked in the 1980s by illustrating a quintessential aspect of its identity: the subway trains and
platforms of New York. With a distinctive lens filter, Morriss work well shows the long-gone
atmosphere in the 1980s New York, and the readers can easily get the gist of his photo essay
by just clicking the arrow key and looking through his images. Moreover, his photo essay not
only offers a window to a New York that once pulsed with a frenetic and dangerous energy, but
also attests that this city remained an always captivating and attractive place.

Formal Analysis
Park 2

Morris produces an inspiring and impressive photo essay by using visual concepts
from the books, Understanding comics by Scott McCloud and Complete Photography by
National Geography.
Realistic visual images
In Understanding Comics, McCloud explains the concept of Big Triangle, which is
defined by three points each representing a stylistic extreme the realistic, iconic, and
abstract images (McCloud 51). Morris uses realistic images in his photo essay, and for this
reason, his work falls under the category of the lower left part of big triangle. McCloud
explains that the strong point of using realistic images is that it is instantaneously received
information, so we do not need any formal education to get the message (McCloud 49). Like
this, by using real images, Morriss photo essay effectively implies the message what Morris
wanted to show us, which is the natural image of subway trains and platforms of New York
City in the 1980s.
Closure
According to McCloud, the closure is the phenomenon of observing the parts but
perceiving the whole (McCloud 63). Closure acts out an important role in the aspect of panel-
to-panel transitions, because by using this, the readers can get the picture easily. Morris well
applies the concept of closure into his photo essay by using scene to scene closure, because
the panels move us across significant distances of time and space (McCloud 71). By moving
across significant spaces in the subway and station which are just a part of New York, it shows
the whole atmosphere of the 1980s New York. Moreover, the readers can guess how New York
looked like at that time by just clicking the arrow key and jumping through panels, which
clarifies the meaning of it.
Park 3

Word-picture combination
According to Understanding Comics, McCloud explains that words and images
combine to show a connected series of ideas (McCloud 152). Moreover, he elucidates the
different ways in which words and pictures can combine in comics. When we look at Morriss
photo essay, the relationship between words and images is inter-dependent combinations.
Words and pictures go hand in hand to convey an idea that neither could convey alone
(McCloud 155).

With the texts composed of several paragraphs underneath the part of images, as Figure
1 shows, we can understand exactly what message Morris intended and wanted to indicate
through his photo essay. Furthermore, these information helps people who do not know that
particular era of New York City, and the reader can receive background knowledge which is
essential to this photo essay. In addition, the caption below each photo, such as Figure 2, helps
the audience to understand what it is going on and gives the brief explanation. Therefore, both
pictures and textual information are essential and crucial to each other in order to create
meaning.
Breaking the rules
Figure 1. Figure 2.
Park 4

According to Complete Photography, the guidelines of photography help to reduce
uncertainty, and the images themselves become predictable when photographers follow the
rules or guidelines for every photograph they take (108). When photographers have thoroughly
learned what these rules are, they break the rules to take predictability away with their photos.
Morris does this in his photo essay by maintaining his idea and message, and Figure 3 and 4
are the representative examples of this.

Figure 3 shows a group of teens pose freely on the train. Here, Morris breaks the rule
by not having a specific focal point. He captures a candid shot of different poses of the
teenagers at that moment. Furthermore, by having the blended leading lines and a little bit
camera shake, the photo gives a sense of energy, fun and freedom in a limited place, like the
teens it portrays.
Figure 3.
Park 5


In Figure 4, we can notice that Morris also does not use a focal point. Morris did not
take a photo of the figure but the movement. Thus, we cannot see the objects face and even
whole body. By capturing the movement, not the figure, this photo shows a sense of energy
and busy of a person at the subway station. Moreover, by juxtaposing the background image,
which one person hits someone and his free hand has the cross, Morris effectively illustrates a
crime-riddled aspect of the 1980s New York City. Therefore, Morris demonstrates a dynamic
and dangerous aspect at that era by capturing the movement and breaking the rules.
Lights

According to Complete Photography, a lens filter would turn the exposure into
adequate daylight tones in fluorescent light (130). Morris makes use of this principle inversely.
Figure 4.
Figure 5.
Park 6

He uses ektachrome film and a magenta filter to offset the florescent lights (Morris). By doing
this, he effectively makes a distinctive atmosphere in his whole photographs. For the reason
that he counterbalances the florescent lights, all his photos looks like in a low light situations.
Furthermore, the place where he takes a picture is the subway station and trains, so there is a
lot of artificial lights, such as fluorescent light. However, like as Figure 5, Morris
counterbalances the florescent lights, so the atmosphere in whole photo essay does not seem
so positive, rather it seems dark. In other words, although the surroundings of the light seems
so bright, the part that people are standing seems shady. These Morriss technique is well
harmony with his idea and the time period of his photo essay. Moreover, due to this technique,
his photo essay has a unique color of sense. Thus, the color of the photo effectively improves
the long-gone atmosphere in the 1980s New York City.

Content Analysis
Morriss idea and message is well depicted and shown through a whole photo essay.
Furthermore, for the reason that his intention is clearly stated by the texts, the readers can
understand whole contents easily.
Although Morris does not give much ethos appeal through his whole photo essay, he
uses an ethos appeal to persuade audiences that he is a reliable photographer and
photojournalist about this topic. For example, according to his photo essay, he says that I was
actually out looking for criminal elements, trying to prove myself as a photojournalist, and
prove myself to myself (Morris). In addition to this, he blended himself in the world by riding
the trains alone, hanging out with groups of teens who ride trains at night and going in the early
morning to catch work-bound commuters (Morris). Therefore, his statements give the
Park 7

audiences the credibility about his photo essay in the aspect that he captured the 1980s New
York City situation frankly and honestly as a photojournalist himself. With this reliability, the
readers can feel more empathy on this photo essay, and believe that this photo essay is a true
reflection of that time and that place.
Pathos, the emotional appeal, is the most part we can notice through whole photo essay.
This is because most photos have a similar atmosphere because the background setting is
similar in the way that all photos are taken at the subway station and trains. Moreover, the dark
atmosphere of whole pictures makes audiences to guess the phases of the times which are dirty,
crime-riddled, and dangerous. Although the whole photo essay feels like gloomy because of
the unique filter that he used, we also can feel the energy through some pictures as he intended
to show us that this city also remained an always fascinating and disarmingly beautiful place
at that time. In addition, not only does Morris focus on a true picture of the subway and station,
but also capture many 1980s New York citizens and their real life in a specific place. This
feature makes the viewers arouse their interest, and this photo essay never becomes boring.

Evaluation
I think Morriss photo essay is very remarkable and impressive. In my opinion, for the
reason that the title has a pivotal role because we look at this for the first time, so whether the
title encompasses the whole idea and concept or not is very significant. In this aspect, the title
of this photo essay well depicts his idea and messages implicitly. In addition, his photo essay
illustrates a good unity with a same atmosphere and settings. He really well expresses the 1980s
New York City time period by using a specific and representative place, the subway trains and
platforms. Besides, the graffiti which often appears in the background overlays the uniqueness
Park 8

of the phases of the times and that place. By observing photographs and essays, we can visually
and rationally comprehend New York Citys images in the 1980s.

















Park 9

Work Cited
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. New York: Harper Perennial, 1994. Print.
Morris, Christopher. Grit, Grime and Graffiti: Christopher Morris on the New York Subway,
1981. time.com. Time light box, Jan 22, 2014. Web. Mar 05, 2014.
n.p. New York City. Wiki. n.d. Web. Mar 05, 2014
Stuckey, Scott. Complete Photography. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2011.
Print.