Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
December 18, 2014

Photos of the Year '14: Climate Change

Why did this photo jump out at me from Mashable’s 2014 photos of the year list?  For its novelty.

Taken by Justin Sullivan for Getty, the caption reads:

A dead lawn is seen next to an artificial lawn on July 15, 2014 in San Francisco, California. As the California drought continues to worsen and voluntary conservation is falling well below the suggested 20 percent, the California Water Resources Control Board is considering a $500 per day fine for residents who waste water on landscaping, hosing down sidewalks and car washing.

With more going on here than I could possibly put my finger on, I welcome your reading. Justin encourages a mind-bending number of comparisons by capturing three thoroughly contrasting elements together. Like a sociologist as much as a reporter, he has captured the deathly drought — a vision of horror that, paired with the fringe of brick, extends in our minds to the whole of suburbia. (Notwithstanding the fact it was shot in the city.)

Like catching different conversation at a dinner party,  it prompts any number of paths and perspectives. A cynic, especially harping on California and the tech surge, might see artificiality, vanity and delusion. Someone else, on the other hand, someone optimistic, might see ingenuity and the application of science in a way that not only takes up the challenge of climate change, but attacks it with craft and artistry.

And then, we have the dog and the jacket, the legs and those tennis shoes (aligned with that progressive, plastic, practical or presumptuous lawn, as you will). Here, too, the interaction of the elements spin in who-knows-how-many directions. Certainly, the pink (catching up the field of green with it), drenches the scene in irony. Perhaps though, we’re so used to whimsy and style in our news and news imagery these days, it serves here (aided by the movement from left-to-right) as an effective seque to seriousness.

(photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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