Band-aids are for cuts, not scars: Are Parks Along Newtown Creek a Pollution Solution, or Another Problem?
Newtown Creek is in New York City and runs through Brooklyn and Queens. It lies in an area that once was industrialized but has deindustrialized in the 1980’s. The creek was used as a bucolic waterway system for nearby farmers then factories. Due to the continued pollution of the creek, especially after the major oil spill, Newtown Creek became a superfund site. This site has become a part of what is now known as the forgotten New York. In the fight to clean the creek, environmental groups have been working hard to not only change the condition of the creek but also the areas that surround it. By putting in place greenspaces, neighborhoods are becoming re-gentrified and company owners and former residents are misplaced.
This image was taken by Nathan Kensinger, a photographer, filmmaker, and curator who has been documenting New York City’s abandoned edges, endangered neighborhoods, and post-industrial waterfront for more than a decade. He has published serval articles and books based on the New York waterfront and the pollution that comes with it.
The intended audience for this photo was not only those fighting environmental injustice but for artist as well. Being posted on a pollution art website, artist and those interested in art have been the ones drawn to this image. The first thing about this image I would like to discuss is the respiratory mask that the men are wearing. This is important because for the focus to be on the pollution of the water no one ever stops to think about the air that surrounds the creek and how it is just as polluted as the water. By them wearing these masks while on a boat within the creek, it supports the notion that the air is just as polluted. This also connects to the lack of trees you can see in the background. Nature is present to help reverse the harm humans due to the environment. However, in an area that is so highly polluted and lack so many trees how the carbon in the air is supposed to be taken and reproduced as oxygen if there are not enough trees or plants to do the job.
Next is the gate you can see on the left side of the image. This gate raises many questions but also supports a lot of evidence as to just how polluted this area is. For instance, the Hudson River is known for its polluted waters; yet, you do not see them constructing huge gates around the river. For this creek, on the other hand, gates are put up to keep people and animals from going into the water, fishing, or (for animals) drinking. This would not have to be done as a precautionary measure if the water was somewhat safe. Instead it must be done. When the weather is bad, and the creek overflows you can find people wearing protective gear trying to clean the garbage that comes up on to the streets.
This brings us to the black water itself. The color of the water does a good job showing how polluted this creek is. However, the debris you can see floating on top of the water shows a little of what one can find in the water.
In conclusion this image relates to my overall environmental justice site because it supports the data collected revolving around pollution. In this image you can clearly see the contaminated water and get a sense of the bad air quality coming off of this creek. By two people jumping the fence that surrounds this polluted place, people can get a sense of how important it is for the community to clean this place up. With “this place” being Newtown Creek, the neighborhoods and people within them are important too.
WORKSHEET 1: Image Analysis
Follow the steps in this worksheet to help uncover details, relationships, and, in the end, meanings embedded in an image that you might miss if you only focus on the image’s content. The formal analysis is the important first tool for interpreting images in the environmental humanities.
FOCAL POINT: Write down and describe the first site in the image where your eyes are drawn to.
My eyes are instantly drawn to the respiratory mask on the two guys face. I believe this is my focal point because it paints a bigger picture to the toxins within the creek. Highlighting how the pollution in the creek does not only affect the water but the air that surrounds it.
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?
Next my eyes are drawn to the second guy in the background and then to the mercy water and lastly the paddle. I believe I am drawn to the second guy next because of how differently he dressed compared to the first guy. Then to the noticeable stuff floating on top of the dark water and the paddle because of its ability to seem as if it is reaching for me but instead is aiming at the camera capturing this moment.
SPATIAL RELATIONSHIPS: Look to see if there are any spatial divisions in the image that reflect different zones of activity.
In this image the only activity seen is the one on the boat. However, in the background you can tell that something is being prohibited due to the gates that section off the area. Then with the few trees in the background it can symbol the industrial area this creek is in because with more building and zoning the less nature is made available.
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?
When analyzing the colors this camera catches you notice from top to bottom the image goes from being light to dark. Starting with the black oily mayonnaise looking water which is lined with polluted muck. This is a great representation and capture of the effects oil spills/leaks, PCB’s, heavy metals, and everything else has on the visual image of the creek. Then as my eyes move upward, I notice the one guy (on the right) is dressed in dull tones and fully covered with protective gear. His dimmest represent the pollution bubble he is currently in being that he has on a respiratory mask and skin is fully covered. This could also be because he is a part of the community that this creek affects. Meanwhile the other guy (on the left) is a little brighter and a lot less covered in protective gear. Although he still wears a respiratory mask his skin is exposed which could indicate that he is not from the nearby communities and does not know the effects of this polluted water. While the background is a little lighter yet there is no visible sun, this can indicate just how forgotten this creek and nearby communities are. Forgotten in a sense that the area can be made to seem bright in a representation of being clean when it is not clean at all. There are underlying issues that no one can really see unless on the inside of the situation.
SCALE/SIZE: Compare the sizes of the various visual elements. Larger size generally correlates with greater importance.
In this image the people are larger than the environment surrounding them. I perceive this image as the people being the bigger picture. With any sort of environmental injustice we are always the focus. With our surroundings playing a huge role in our health I can see why and how they are up close and personal in this image instead of being far and small.
Also, the things that the two guys’ have have an importance in the bigger picture. Being that they are wearing masks surrounded by mucky water it represents how harmful the pollution in this area is to humans let alone animals nearby.
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.
There are a lot of elements that play off one another such as the color contrast, environment, and people. These elements blend very well with one another because the pollution of the two guys’ surroundings compliments the vivid verse light colors used when looking at the clothing (mask being the brightest/noticeable thing) and comparing it to the dullness they sit in the middle of.
INDIVIDUAL ACTORS & DETAILS: Write down any other details that don’t seem to fit a pattern yet seem important for understanding the image.
The most important thing to recognize is the people and the items they are using. For this creek to run through neighborhoods that consisted of low-income and poverty people originally shows how the greenspaces create more gentrification or can support the data that expresses the high number of linguistically challenged people in the communities that may not know or understand what is happening around them. This makes the communities to reside on outside sources or the “other guys” to step in and use their privilege to fix their “home”.
ABSENCES: Can you think of something that is conspicuously missing from the picture?
What baffles me about this image is the lack of life shown in the foreground and background. Also, the lack of trees and society. In some pictures you can find buildings, trees, or something other than what is evident. This is alarming because it makes me question the nearby communities and what have become of them and nature itself.
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.
The creator of this image was trying to allow the art of the image itself to speak for the pollution of the creek. By doing so he is capturing a rare moment that outsiders do not ever see which is people on the filthiest part of the creek. This image captures effects more than a cause, those who are affected, and how important it is to make others aware of the creeks situation.
WHERE TO GO NEXT: List other sources you can turn to find out more information about the image.
KEYWORDS: Water Pollution, Air Pollution, Newtown Creek, Art, Communities