Melanie Machcinski’s Photographic Essay

The American Dream

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I titled the photographic essay “Hope/Despair” in order to bring about a tension between the spectators own thought process on the commentary of immigration. I did not want there to be a strictly positive view on the landscape, yet I also did not want a strictly negative view either. I wanted to convey the struggle that migration causes, and how one must keep the faith of the dream to truly gain access to happiness. That does not mean it is always fulfilled. I did not add any captions or text because I very much believe in Barthes style of a photographic essay, where the spectator brings about all the emotions and thoughts throughout the narrative. The author–me–has done enough to compile the photographs together, and as such, it is up to the spectator to interpret the collections in their own way. Simply by putting the title and the photographs together, the author/photographer has given enough insight into their own thought process in order for the spectator to understand their message. Also, from the responses of Elana and Emily, I was able to see that my narrative was gleaned in the correct light, therefore I think that there is enough direction without words. If I were to comment on the pictures and give my own context to the works as a whole, it would be extremely selfish by not letting the spectator bring about their own conclusions and thoughts. To me, a photographic narrative is all about the spectator and what they would draw from the photographs; it is not the author/editor carousing them toward their intentions through accompanying text.

As I began the project, it was extremely difficult for me to commit to a narrative. This is partly to do with my own indecisiveness and partly to do with the fact that I wanted to show something that would comment on a social issue. I found my project within the concept of the American Dream. Finding and compiling the photographs together was a significantly easier task, since the main context and narrative story has been fleshed out. After reading the comments on my photographic narrative, I was pleased to see that the spectators were able to glean my general message from the photographs alone. It was then time to add additional text if I wanted to supplement the photographs. Since the spectator was able to share my vision, I did not feel it necessary to add any further commentary on the photographs. I did add a tile, which was very difficult for me to choose. I wanted to convey a sense of  while also a sense of pejoration throughout the narrative. I felt that immigration/migration was too broad of a title while The American Dream could be interpreted in many different ways, depending on the spectator’s own perceptions of these terms. I felt that the American Dream would do the most in reaching all spectators and uniting them within this photographic narrative. This could have a negative or positive connotation, depending on the spectators own thoughts and interpretations. I wanted this photographic narrative to center on the spectators own views, and I think that I accomplished this goal.


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7 Responses to Melanie Machcinski’s Photographic Essay

  1. Elana says:

    Title: Immigration

    This photo narrative tells the story of immigration. It begins with a dream in a faraway village (probably in some Eastern European country) of one day coming to America. Once enough money has been saved up, the dream becomes a reality and the family journeys off to sea. The Statue of Liberty, a symbol of hope and prosperity, greets the immigrants. However, life in America is not the blissful dream they expected. The cities are crowded, work is hard to find &maintain, and many immigrants end up living in the slums. In addition, immigrants are not welcomed to the country the way they would have hoped. There are protests against their entrance to this great country. However, despite the hardships, their American Dream does live on and with enough hard work and determination they are able to finally buy themselves a home along with that white picket fence Americans take so much pride in.

  2. Elana says:

    Actually, I change the title to The American Dream 🙂

  3. Emily Schweich says:

    The Land of Opportunity

    Melanie’s photo essay juxtaposes the ideal image of America, captured through photographs that represent the immigrants’ dreams, with the actual America that the immigrants face. The white picket fence depicted in the last photograph and the Statue of Liberty contrast starkly with the images of crowds, lines and factory workers, many of whom are children. The essay doesn’t necessarily have an undertone of desperation; rather, it tells an honest story that immigrating to a new land is not always easy.

  4. Sheila Jelen says:

    I called it “Migration.” I also love the last line of your narrative framing: “There is a certain momentum within these photographs that grapples for a sense of control that only the spectator is able to give.” How do you connect this up with your initial statement that a photographic narrative must be able to fully show the notions and emotions behind the story…” ? Whose notions and emotions? The spectator? The photographer? The subject? All three? What about an editor, who puts the photos together?

  5. Sheila Jelen says:

    Melanie, so is the title “The American Dream” or is it “Hope/Despair”? I was confused about that because your reflection seems to indicate the second while the essay itself is title with the first. Also, as I have told others who had the same concerns, I believe that the right kind of caption can go a long way and open many more doors than it closes.

  6. Ben Shaw says:

    I thought this was a really cool photo essay. In Terri’s section, we’ve talked about the aesthetic familiarity of black-and-white images and how they have certain associations, including that of something being set in the Past; the images we’ve seen of the early 20th century are in black and white, and so when we see a black-and-white image of people with suitcases, we immediately associate it with the immigration narrative, for instance. Your decision to include only black-and-white images really contributed to the feeling of the past, and really helped set the photos in their specific time period. This really made the fact that you ended with a black-and-white photo of a white picket fence interesting; it’s a timeless symbol for The American Dream, and that picture could have been taken at any time. (Maybe symbolizing that this immigration narrative continues to play out today?) My section has also talked about the media as public pedagogy, giving us information about time periods, events, and situations through their depictions of them. The viewers, in turn, internalize these depictions, until certain aesthetics and tropes are implicitly associated with specific events. Your essay played on this nicely, working with the knowledge that your viewers have from their preconceptions of the immigration narrative and Ellis Island to create a sense of movement from the still images – moving from the crowd with suitcases to the Statue of Liberty to the people standing in line to represent sailing across the sea and the arrival at Ellis Island, for instance. All in all, I thought this essay was really good and interesting!

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