Posted by: JuliaJoyBerk | December 7, 2009

HELVETICA – final project

I received the assignment for this project just before leaving for Thanksgiving break, and I immediately knew I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity.  Throughout the semester I have shot my assignments on campus, and the prospect of completing an assignment in an entirely different location seemed thrilling.  Knowing that I would be in New York City during this project, my goal was to somehow capture the culture of the city through a series of photographs.

I had some vague ideas of how I could fulfill this goal, but I did not have a concrete plan.  One of my original concepts was to capture contrasting images:  either the contrast between city and suburbs or rich and poor.  Another idea revolved around the concept of traditions, taking advantage of the holiday cheer spreading throughout the city.  However, I felt these plans were slightly too vague to execute as they were.  I felt I needed something more precise, and decided to keep exploring my options.  For inspiration, I began shooting anything that interested me or caught my attention – people, buildings, landscapes – hoping I would stumble across something.

Since watching the film Helvetica in class earlier this semester, I have been fascinated by typography, specifically the font Helvetica.  My friends have endured countless occasions in which I will interrupt a conversation with an interjection of “HELVETICA!”  It has become like a game, now that I am consciously aware of the repetition, and I cannot help but notice it.  As I wandered the city, Helvetica seemed to be everywhere.  After pointing it out several times, I realized that it would be a perfect topic of observation:  not only is it a subject which interests me, but it is an original lens through which to view New York.

Helvetica can be used to convey a variety of moods and messages, something which I discovered when watching the film and further explored while shooting.  It is a particularly eye-catching typeface, and is convenient and easy to read.  Depending on the way it is used, Helvetica can appear modern or classic, simple or quirky.  The diverse messages are evident in the variety of uses I observed throughout Manhattan.

I spent my day in the city on a sort of scavenger hunt, which made my trip all the more intriguing.  Though I have been to New York City many times, I have never visited the city with this sort of objective, and I enjoyed the new lens through which I was observing the city.

However, I did face several difficulties along the way.  Given the nature of New York City, I found that the resulting shots were quite different from the ones I had framed in the viewfinder.  Because New York is such a fast-paced city, shooting could be overwhelming at times, and I never knew exactly what my results would be.  I struggled to keep up with my family, whom I was spending the day with, because every time I paused I would get lost in a sea of New Yorkers, power-walking to wherever they needed to be.  I tried not interrupt the flow of pedestrian traffic, but found this to be quite difficult for similar reasons.

All while shooting, I could not help but feel that I was missing out on dozens of shots, because so many things were happening simultaneously.

I used a digital Nikon SLR to shoot my project, which allowed me to control my aperture and exposure times.  I prefer to shoot with my camera set to Manual mode, so that I have full control over the depth of field and movement within the frame.  I was lucky to be shooting on a day with ample sunlight so that, even when I wanted a very narrow depth of field, I could still have a short enough exposure that movement would not be blurred.

After returning to campus, I used Adobe Photoshop to edit the images.  I did not manipulate the content of the images at all, instead using the program to restore the images to the way I remembered them looking.  By adjusting the contrast and saturation of the image, as well as using the burning and dodging tools, I was able to emphasize the Helvetica within the images, helping to draw the eye to the intended subject of the photograph.

I am pleased with my results:  I feel that the images capture the overwhelming bustle I felt while shooting this project.  Many of the images have at least one element which alludes to the never-ending movement of New York City, whether in the form of people or transportation. I like the way the movement and dirtiness of the city contrast with the clean simplicity of Helvetica itself.

I also found merchandise featuring Helvetica, which added diversity to the collection.  This represents the consumerism for which Manhattan has become famous, and I was especially surprised by the context in which I found some of this merchandise.  My favorite instance of use through merchandise, which I have chosen to include in this collection, is the book entitled Graphic Design, which I discovered resting atop a display of flasks in Urban Outfitters.  I had previously associated Helvetica with a more conservative image, but as with the rest of the shots in this collection, this one revealed yet another original take on the universal typeface.

Because I was shooting in such a busy city, I was reluctant to bring multiple lenses with me while shooting.  I left my long lens at home, which is something I regret.  Should I do a similar shoot in the future, I will definitely carry the extra equipment so I will be able to shoot things that are farther away.

Unfortunately, I only spent half a day in the city, so my variety of lighting and location was limited, another issue I will address next time I do a similar project.  I would have liked to have shot many more photographs, but time did not allow me to be quite as thorough as I would have preferred.  Overall, I am still quite pleased with the series of photographs I have produced.  I hope that this photography collection will have a similar effect on my audience that the video Helvetica had on me, and that they will find themselves constantly exclaiming “HELVETICA!”

After my day in New York City I headed North into the suburbs.  I assumed my work was complete, but I continued to notice and shoot Helvetica photographs throughout the rest of my trip, finding typeface in board games, street signs, business cards.  Perhaps I will continue this project as I continue my travels; I look forward to seeing the way different cities use the same typeface, the simple Helvetica.

Posted by: JuliaJoyBerk | November 23, 2009



Posted by: JuliaJoyBerk | November 18, 2009

Shot List

  1. WS – frame window
  2. Pan to Michelle in bed, looking out window
  3. MCU – Michelle’s blank stare (about 0:06)
  4. CU – handful of pills (0:02)
  5. MCU – Michelle’s blank stare (0:02)
  6. CU – handful of pills (0:02)
  7. MCU – Michelle’s blank stare (0:02)
  8. CU – handful of pills (0:02)
  9. MCU – Michelle’s blank stare (0:02)
  10. CU – handful of pills (0:02)
  11. WS – Doorway with visitors walking by
  12. MCU – Michelle’s blank stare, turns head abruptly
  13. WS, low angle – Michelle gets out of bed
  14. WS – Michelle leaving room through door
  15. WS – woman walking toward camera, Michelle behind her
  16. MS – Michelle catches up with woman, reaches toward head…
  17. CU – hand grabbing hat
  18. WS – woman screams and falls, drops suitcase; Michelle grabs suitcase and runs; doctors approach and woman points after Michelle; doctors run in that direction
  19. MS – Doctors run past door, then Michelle exits wearing dress
  20. MS – pan to follow Michelle as she walks down the hallway; doctors run up to her and frantically ask her a question, and she points in the opposite direction; Michelle continues walking.
  21. WS – Michelle exits through door
  22. WS – Michelle comes out on other side, walks to the column and pauses
Posted by: JuliaJoyBerk | November 11, 2009

treatment for PAINTING FILM

Michelle is seated in a bed, the walls around her a stark white.  Her hair is disheveled, and she is dressed in a hospital gown.  She gazes absently out the window by her bed, sun shining on her face.  A nurse repeatedly enters the scene, handing Michelle a fist-full of multi-colored pills.  The two shots – Michelle’s blank stare and the nurse’s hand – flash repeatedly, the interaction evidently routine.  Michelle’s eyes never leave the window.

Conservatively dressed visitors with flowers and suitcases pass by Michelle’s door, never stopping or looking in.  Visitors always seem to be in a rush, gazing straight ahead and walking quickly.

A well-groomed woman in a hat enters Michelle’s room, a suitcase in hand.  This is the first time Michelle’s eyes leave the window, her expression still blank.

The woman seems surprised to see Michelle, excuses herself, and quickly leaves.  Michelle watches her.  After the woman has left, Michelle stumbles barefoot across the room to the door.

In the hallway, the woman walks purposefully, carrying herself with dignity.  Michelle follows behind, first keeping a distance, but soon speeding up to a jog.  When she gets close enough, Michelle snatches the hat off the woman’s head.

Shocked, the woman spins around, dropping the suitcase.  Michelle snatches it from the ground and runs in the opposite direction, limbs flailing.

A group of men in lab coats crowd around the stunned woman, who points emphatically in the direction Michelle has run, but cannot seem to speak.  They run after her, passing a door.  As soon as they are gone, Michelle peeks out from that door, dressed in the woman’s hat, heels, and a white dress.

Michelle hurries down the stairs.  As she is approaching the exit, the men in lab coats run up to her, questioning her politely.  She points in the opposite direction, then grins as she leaves the building.

Michelle pauses at the top of the steps of the building, taking in the sight of the outdoors.

Posted by: JuliaJoyBerk | November 11, 2009

new wave – BREATHLESS


Scene begins at 18:30

1) MS – Michel and Patricia walk down sidewalk, man asks Michel for a light [1:32]

2) CU – Cut to Michel driving car [0:08]

3) CU – Cut to Patricia, riding in car [0:08]

4) CU – Cut to Patricia, fixing hair in car [0:06]

5) CU – Cut to Patricia, questioning Michel [0:24]

6) CU Cut to Patricia, looking around without talking [0:05]

7) CU Cut to Patricia, Michel talks [0:05]

8 ) CU Cut to Patricia, Michel talks [0:02]

9) CU Cut to Patricia, Michel talks [0:01]

10) CU Cut to Patricia, Michel talks [0:01]

11) CU Cut to Patricia, Michel talks [0:01]

12 CU Cut to Patricia, Michel talks [0:30]

13) MCU Cut to Michel, turns to Patricia [0:18]

During this scene, Michel offers Patricia a ride to her appointment, and she accepts.  The scene is made up of several key French New Wave techniques, used to create a gritty, expressive appearance that counters the traditional style of film.

The first shot is a two shot, which perfectly captures Michel and Patricia in conversation as they walk, as well as exposing the bustling city around them.  The camera is unsteady, which mirrors the rhythm of the walking characters; the audience gets a feeling for the movement and tumult of the city.  Because the shot was filmed as an extended tracking shot, the audience experiences the conversation in “real time,” getting the full interaction, even the interruptions, rather than just the traditionally important parts.

The rest of the scene is shot in the car.  The conversation is uncomfortable, as demonstrated in the abrupt jump cuts; this isolates the conversation from the natural passage of time, as we have no idea how long or short the pauses are.  The shots are only slightly different from one another, an intentionally sloppy stylistic choice.  This demonstrates both a rebellion from the traditional style and a discomfort in the interaction.  The camera remains unsteady throughout.  During the car ride, only one character is shown at a time.  The lack of eye contact heightens the distance between the two lovers, enforced by Patricia’s indifference to Michel’s praise.

Posted by: JuliaJoyBerk | November 9, 2009

scavenger hunt video

Posted by: JuliaJoyBerk | October 22, 2009

Title Sequence Critique


Juno, the controversial 2007 film starring Ellen Page, has become something of an icon in today’s popular culture.  The quirky characters and dialogue are epitomized in the opening title sequence:  the images seem to be drawn by an invisible hand, the lines building to create a complete, two-dimensional town.  The whimsical sequence, designed by Shadowplay Studio, uses a palette of organic, contrasting colors outlined in bold black lines, and mixes some three-dimensional objects (generally the Juno character) in with the otherwise flat scenery.  This off-beat, unexpected combination of dimensions prepares the audience for the quirky, child-like characteristics of the film.

The distinct font serves a similar purpose.  The capital block letters could easily have been doodled in the margins of an assignmet by a bored yet imaginative high school student; Juno is both bored and imaginative, and thus the font creates perfect expectations about the character who is being introduced.  By the end of the sequence, the audience has followed Juno all around her small mid-western town, and at this point has subconsciously developed an understanding of the teenager who is drinking the Sunny-D.

The title sequence places a higher emphasis on graphics than text, though the styles mesh together perfectly.  By introducing the main character, the setting, and several over-arching themes, such as the changing seasons, Shadowplay has prepared the audience for the untraditional, quirky film.

Posted by: JuliaJoyBerk | October 17, 2009

Poster Critique


This flier, an advertisement for the club Mistral, was hanging on lampposts lining the streets of Aix-en-Provence, France several summers ago.  There is a lot to absorb in this text-based design, yet the grouping of elements reduces the onslaught of information into more digestible bits.

The dominant grouping is the title of the event, “Easy Mondayz.”  The words are in close proximity, some even overlapping, which serves to set the group apart from the other groups of elements.  The colors used in the title are a bold contrast to the black background, although the contrast is lessened by the shadow.  The geometric font gives the audience a sense of what to expect of the club’s atmosphere.

The other information is grouped by content, the associations visually evident by proximity and use of alignment.  The groups just above and below “Easy Mondayz” follow a similar color theme to the dominant group, but the justified alignment differentiates them from the other groups.  The mix of upper- and lower-case type is confusing, but the sans-serif font and justified alignment appear modern.

I find the white type at the bottom to be the most impressive part of the poster.  The different color scheme works to separate this general information from the event-specific information above.  The bottom-most group is especially well-executed, the shared-dominance of the logo and contact information appearing professional.  The alignment of the contact information lines up with the vertical edge, which appears stable.

Though I think the variation of fonts and inconsistency in punctation and capitalization (and language) weaken the design, the concept and groupings are quite effective.

Posted by: JuliaJoyBerk | October 15, 2009

Project Literacy

literacy poster

This August I canvassed with Higher Achievement, a non-profit created to promote literacy in the DC public schools.  This experience inspired “Project Literacy,” the fictional organization featured in my cause poster. I lit the photograph and chose the font and shades in accordance with the serious message I hoped to send:  literacy in urban public schools is suffering, and it is up to us to fix the problem.

Posted by: JuliaJoyBerk | October 1, 2009

SMITHSONIAN gallery review

A man washing in Malowi

Photographs line the gallery walls at the Smithsonian Castle; these are the finalists in the Smithsonian Magazine’s Sixth Annual Photo Contest.  Of the 17,000 photos entered, there are seven winning photographs on display, as well as about 50 other finalists.  Each photograph was entered in one of five categories:  Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, and Altered Images.

The photographs are very diverse in geographical location and moderately diverse in content, but remarkably similar in emotion.  Most have a natural tranquility, established through a single subject at ease with the surrounding environment.  I had expected to find exceptional examples of photojournalism, photographs displaying emotion, convey conflict, tell a story.  While some of the photographs do tell a story, it is generally one of comfort rather than unrest.  I found the photographers placing a much higher emphasis on composition, using techniques and rules we’d learned in class, than on the message being portrayed.

My favorite photograph on display is one entitled “A Man Washing in Malowi,” a finalist in the People category (above).  Jayson Carpenter seems to have established a true rapport with his subject, even though in his description the photographer admits to have only taken several frames of the stranger.  The photograph defies the rule of thirds, the subject instead centered within the frame.  This is a powerful method a photographer uses to grab the viewers’ attention.  The the man’s dark eyes seemed to stare straight into mine, again pulling me in away from the dozens of other photographs.  While the composition of this piece is relatively simple, the power of the shot and the relationship with the subject made this one stand out above even the winning photographs.

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