Image Analysis-JM

They Call It ‘Filthadelphia’ Image Analysis

Image 1:

Through my research, I have located an image of a recycling collector. This image displays a man with a shopping cart carrying recyclable materials he has collected along his route to what we can assume to be a recycling facility that participates in a buy-back program that pays collectors cash for certain types and amounts of recyclable materials. The photograph was taken in Fishtown, a neighborhood within Philadelphia. Although not specific to Fishtown, my research is dedicated to recycling programs in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This image helps to reinforce my argument that some lower-class Philadelphians rely on buy-back programs for economic stability.

            My chosen image was produced by a news reporting website called “The Spirit of the Riverwinds” in Philadelphia. It was produced in May of 2015. This image was attached to an article about the “trash pickers” of Fishtown detailing the daily lives of two men who made their money off of buy-back programs due to the difficulties of job attainment with a criminal background. The article seems to be written as a method of informing the audience, who are Fishtown and other Philadelphian citizens, about the life of the trash pickers seen on the streets. I believe that the image was attached as a way to personify the term “trash picker” and help ease the negative stigma that accompanies the term. At the time that this image and article were posted, Philadelphia was struggling to afford their recycling program due to an expired contract with a recycling facility. The new contract increased the prices the city must pay for recycling, and trash pickers who collected material from residential trash that was on the city’s trash collection routes took the profits of those recyclables away from the city.

            In the photo, three things help to portray the meaning of the image that I have defined. The first is the contents of his shopping cart. If you look closely, you can see that the bottom of the cart is covered in aluminum soda cans. There is a large cardboard box from a microwave oven on top of another cardboard box. The man has a black garbage bag presumably full of more materials inside the cart as well as in his left hand. This is a lot of recyclable material that was discarded either incorrectly or picked up from the street. The amount of trash collected shows that there is money to be made through the work, and being in ‘Filthadelphia’ almost guarantees collectors will have more to find in the next day.

            Secondly, the time of day is worth noting. I have found through my research that many recycling collectors will start searching for their materials in the early morning before people wake up or trash trucks come around. This image shows a dark background with street lights as the only illumination. I think that this speaks for the dedication these collectors have for their work while also proving that there is competition among the collectors. The phrase “the early bird gets the worm” comes to mind when I look at this image and try to decipher the time of day. Whether it is early morning or late at night, this man is dedicated to his work, which speaks for the level of reliance he has on being able to collect as much material as possible.

            Finally, the man’s appearance helps us see his reliance on economic stability. The jacket that he wears look well-worn and thin, but the hoodie underneath and the beanie on his head indicate that it is cold out. He doesn’t wear gloves, which would benefit him in both cold weather as well as while he is picking through the trash. It’s clear that whatever money he makes through the buy-back program is going to things other than clothing for himself, and the thinness of his face causes me to believe that the money is probably going to his daily meals. Even the look the man is making in the image shows his weariness and fatigue. He almost looks as if he is wary of the photographer as if he sees them as a threat to his materials. Considering the article mentions collectors being cited by police officers in other cities, I think that this expression portrays his acknowledgment that what he is doing is looked down on and not accepted by authorities.

            This image helps viewers see the dependency that recycling collectors have on trading recyclable materials. The abundance of material in the cart, the time of day, and the appearance of the collector himself all represent the dependence that I am trying to outline through my research. You can see in this image that the lower-class citizens of Philadelphia live extremely different lives and experience extremely different conditions than the middle or upper-class. The scarcity of upward mobility resources in Philadelphia creates the dependence on buy-back programs, and this system is replicated throughout the country in post-war America: lower-class citizens are unable to attain or access the same resources as middle or upper-class and must rely on scraps leftover from these people as a way to survive.

WORKSHEET: Image Analysis 1

FOCAL POINT: Write down and describe the first site in the image where your eyes are drawn to.

The man’s face is thin and his expression is complex. He looks weary, scared, and fatigue at the same time.

DIRECTION OF MOVEMENT WITHIN THE PICTURE FRAME: Note where your eyes are drawn to next, traveling from one place to another across the image. See if you can create a narrative from the string of visual scenes and relationships among component parts. What might the progression of visual elements mean?

From the man’s face, my eyes move to the items in his cart: to large box, then the bag, then the cans at the bottom. From there I look towards the background at the dark street illuminated only by street lights.

SPATIAL RELATIONSHIPS: Look to see if there are any spatial divisions in the image that reflect different zones of activity.

The street lights in the background look far into the distance, but the man and his cart are well-illuminated by a nearby light.

COLOR: Note which features share the same color.  Which ones are brightest, darkest, and dimmest.  Can you make any judgments about these differences, including how the elements may be understood in relation to the others?

The background is dim and dark. The man and his cart are well-illuminated, but he is easier to see than his cart’s contents. The bags, boxes, and cans all have dark features despite being under the light. It’s clear that the man himself is the most important piece of this image, with the cart contents following as the second and the background as least important, based on color and light.

SCALE/SIZE:  Compare the sizes of the various visual elements.  Larger size generally correlates with greater importance.

The size of the box in the cart makes the man seem small behind the cart. The size of the bag in his left hand is also reasonably large, making him look like his collections are equivalent to his size. Perhaps this means that the collections he has made is as important to his life as himself.

CONTRASTS: Note how some visual elements play off each other. These contrasts serve to accentuate differences and/or exaggerate the separate qualities of each. Conversely, little contrast can communicate likeness or similarity.

The illumination of the man and his cart compared to the background of the city/street is the starkest contrast here. The contents of the cart are all similarly lit or colored; there are mostly dark colors like the black bags, the black on the box, and the holes of the aluminum cans.

INDIVISUAL ACTORS & DETAILS: Write down any other details that don’t seem to fit a pattern yet seem important for understanding the image. 

The man’s clothes suggests that it’s cold outside, but he isn’t wearing gloves. Gloves would be helpful for collecting as well. The time of day assumed through the darkness of the background might suggest that it’s very early in the morning or very late at night; either way, he is alone on the street. Is this a result or the time and temperature, or because of his status as a collector?

ABSENCES: Can you think of something that is conspicuously missing from the picture?

There are no other people seen in the background of the image where sidewalk and street can be seen.

VALUES & MEANINGS:  List some of the values you think the image maker is expressing through these visual relationships and elements.  Try to state a takeaway message or two that you can then verify with other sources.

There is a negative stigma against trash collectors. Some people, like this man, can only make money/live off of buy-back programs and rely on other people’s trash or lack of recycling program participation.

WHERE TO GO NEXT: List other sources you can turn to find out more information about the image.

This image was located in an article by Philadelphia Magazine, more information can be found in the article and possibly also through the website of the magazine.

https://spiritnews.org/articles/trash-pickers-in-fishtown-where-there-is-a-will-there-is-a-way/

Image 2:

            The second image that I came across in my research is from the inside of a recycling facility. This image portrays workers along a conveyor belt covered in recyclable materials. This image helps me show the efficiency problems that Philadelphia recycling programs faced and continue to face even in 2020. The number of workers and the amount of trash suggests the expense the city faces if they are to continue recycling. Analysis of this image can help me outline the expense issues that Philadelphia tackles while it attempts to implement efficient recycling programs.

            In this image, we see a line of workers sorting through a massive amount of materials on a conveyor belt. There are large, metal bins labeled “Landfill” behind the workers, presumably where they must put materials that will not generate as much profit as others. The image was produced by Philadelphia Magazine in April of 2019. The article this image was located in was written to inform readers, who are mostly Philadelphian residents, about the increasing costs of the recycling industry. As previously mentioned, recycling facilities were charging more from the city but were accepting far less material. This left the city with higher costs to pay and less profit, but also with an overwhelming amount of non-profitable materials that were relocated to landfills.

            To understand how recycling was becoming more expensive, it’s important to understand what this image shows. The image shows at least 6 city employees sorting this conveyor belt. Each of those employees must be paid for their work, and they are probably full-time considering that the amount of trash shown here represents a demand for labor. Each worker is donned with safety gear including hardhats, safety glasses, fluorescent vests, and gloves. This suggests that there is probably formal training and uniforms required to attain this job, and that is probably paid for by the employer, aka the city. Everything about these employees suggests that money is being spent on them. When I look at this image, I don’t see people, I see dollar signs.

            The abundance of trash along the conveyor belt also suggests an expense. Each of those recyclable materials are worth something to the city, but the more trash there is, the more workers they need to sort through it. This is a cyclical problem; the city can make more money from more materials but loses money because they must pay people to sort the materials. Also, the city must dispose of the materials that cannot be accepted by the recycling center once they exceed their contractually agreed amount, so they must pay to have them sent to a landfill.

            The large, metal bins labeled “landfill” also suggest that the city is spending more money than they are receiving. To pay for the disposal of excess materials that could yield profits if it weren’t for the contract with the recycling center is like throwing away money. The materials in this image have value, but the cost of them is greater than their worth because of the cost of transport to landfills, as well as the cost of maintaining the landfills themselves. There is more than one single bin for landfill-destined material as well, suggesting that there is a fairly large amount of material being tossed.

            Everything in this image portrays another expense to the city of Philadelphia. From the workers, to the trash, to the facility the photographer is inside, all of it costs the city more than they can make from recycling their residents’ trash. The economic gain that this program lacks is a key factor in the inefficiency that plagues Philadelphia’s recycling attempts. When the efforts of the city become unprofitable, it cannot be expected by the public or city officials to endorse such a program. The economic inefficiencies will yield further inefficiencies throughout the program.

WORKSHEET: Image Analysis 2

FOCAL POINT: Write down and describe the first site in the image where your eyes are drawn to.

My eyes are first drawn to the line of trash along the conveyor belts.

DIRECTION OF MOVEMENT WITHIN THE PICTURE FRAME: Note where your eyes are drawn to next, traveling from one place to another across the image. See if you can create a narrative from the string of visual scenes and relationships among component parts. What might the progression of visual elements mean?

From the conveyor belt, my eyes moved towards the workers: their fluorescent vests, to their gloves, their hardhats, glasses, and masks. Looking at the masks, I realized that two workers are not wearing them properly and have them pulled down below their chin and nose.

SPATIAL RELATIONSHIPS: Look to see if there are any spatial divisions in the image that reflect different zones of activity.

There are large green tubes above the workers that I assumed are chutes where the trash comes from. The garbage on the line is closest, but there are large bins behind the workers that appear small because of the distance from the camera. These bins are labeled “landfill” and I assume they contain materials that are not going to be recycled.

COLOR: Note which features share the same color.  Which ones are brightest, darkest, and dimmest.  Can you make any judgments about these differences, including how the elements may be understood in relation to the others?

All of the workers wear the same colors on their uniforms: white hardhats, fluorescent green vests, etc. The metal of the facility is green as well and all matches. This makes me think of the facility and the workers as one unit instead of people inside of a building. The materials on the conveyor belt are mostly brown, and are the only thing in the image of this color.

SCALE/SIZE:  Compare the sizes of the various visual elements.  Larger size generally correlates with greater importance.

The conveyor belt appears the largest because of its proximity to the camera, making it feel as though it is the most important piece of the image. The workers are the next largest, although they decrease in size as your eyes move down where the conveyor belt goes, making it seem as though the belt itself is long and wide. The bins labeled “landfill” looks small because of their distance, but you can tell based on the workers in front of them that they are not. The chutes where I assume the garbage comes from are large, possibly indicating that there  is a large amount of material coming to the conveyor belt throughout the day.

CONTRASTS: Note how some visual elements play off each other. These contrasts serve to accentuate differences and/or exaggerate the separate qualities of each. Conversely, little contrast can communicate likeness or similarity.

The green of the facility’s metal and the green of the workers’ vests are different yet similar, making me think of them as a single unit. They contrast with the brown color of the materials along the conveyor belt.

INDIVISUAL ACTORS & DETAILS: Write down any other details that don’t seem to fit a pattern yet seem important for understanding the image. 

All of the workers are looking to their left down the line. This makes me think that the material is coming from the left, but we can see that there is a lot left on the belt at the far right of the picture. Does this mean that all of this material will be recycling? How high was the pile before being sorted into landfill bins?

Two of the workers are not wearing their masks correctly. They are pulled down and not protective of their nose or mouth.

ABSENCES: Can you think of something that is conspicuously missing from the picture?

I don’t know the logistics of these facilities, but there are no windows to be seen in this image. There is also no clock seen. This seems as though the facility is preventing workers from seeing the time of day, and it makes me think of this sorting process as 24/7.

VALUES & MEANINGS:  List some of the values you think the image maker is expressing through these visual relationships and elements.  Try to state a takeaway message or two that you can then verify with other sources.

All of the material along the belt and the number of working employees with safety measures in place make me think that recycling might be more expensive than lucrative for the city. The size of the landfill bins suggesting that a great deal of material is discarded shows that they are not making as much profit as possible.

WHERE TO GO NEXT: List other sources you can turn to find out more information about the image.

This image was located in an article. To find more information or see similar images, the article would be a good place to go. Also, the city’s Waste Management website probably details the training and safety measures achieved to maintain this type of job.

https://www.phillymag.com/news/2019/04/08/philadelphia-recycling-incinerator/

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class, business, toxics, pollution, recycling