Saturday, October 13, 2007

Blog Entry Number 4

A picture is worth a thousand words... but does it really represent reality? We all take pictures... family gatherings, birthdays, holidays, vacations...but we never stop to think of it as documenting our life. I have literally thousands of pictures and yet never realized I was making a story, a documentation of my life. We take pictures for so many reasons. Whether it is to remember a funny time, keep our relatives up to date of our lives, or just to add to our collection. We are capturing the real and presenting it to those who want to see it. But is it really the real? Do pictures really capture all that happened at that moment in time? I would argue that it does not. When we look at a family picture, we don’t see all the hassle that went on to get everyone together and to smile and look nice. We don’t see all the fighting that probably took place, the baby crying, and the frustrated parents. All we see is one happy family standing in a picture. It is a representation of what we WANT to be real; a sort of fantasy family. “Our memory is never fully ‘ours’, nor are the pictures ever unmediated representations of our past” (Family Snaps, pg 14). It’s that picture perfect family that everyone strives for but in reality there is no such thing. Only those who were there can faintly remember what actually went on, but as time goes on that fades away too and all we remember is that picture perfect family.

The camera has become part of the events now. “There is no attempt to conceal the process of picture-taking – participants present themselves directly to the camera in an act of celebratory co-operation” (Family Snaps, pg 4). Hardly ever do we go somewhere that we are not bound to be capture on camera. Everyone wants to preserve the event as long as they can. And now with the introduction of the digital camera, people can take thousands of pictures at a time, go back and look at them and choose what to keep. We now have this ability to edit the pictures on the spot to get the best image. But is this then a representation of the real? Again I’ll argue against it. How are we representing what really went on at the moment in time when we have deliberately posed for the picture, taken it many times and then gone and edited it??? Back before digital cameras the pictures used to capture reality because you could not change or edit the picture. They told a story, showed reality and truth. The pictures were chosen carefully because a roll of film only had so many pictures whereas with digital cameras now you can take thousands of pictures.

But the camera is good in representing our past. It is here that we “gaze at layers of our past being” (Family Snaps, pg 2). We don’t really remember much of when we were younger, but looking at picture albums (from a time when digital cameras were not around especially), we can begin to piece together our past. We see pictures of family events, family members that maybe have passed away, things we did when we were younger etc. Although it does not represent the entire past, it gives us a sense of who we are. I’ll look back at pictures from when I was a baby all the way until the age I am now, and that is how I put together my past. I remember things based on the photos I see and it helps me realize who I am today. “We invest our own album with the weight of childhood experience, searching it for information, pouring into it our unfulfillable desires” (Family Snaps, pg 2). It helps you to see who you are and where you came from. Without the camera, we would not have this ability to remember the past as well as this.

Not only does photographs help us to remember, but it allows us to keep our relatives that live far away up to date on our lives. Many of my family members have blogs which they post images of their new babies, events and different chapters in their lives. It allows us to somewhat experience it with them from a far. Pictures are also used to help prove someone was somewhere, as well as the images help to make sense of the world around us. “Snapshots are part of the material with which we make sense of our wider world” (Family Snaps, pg 10).

Many times we add captions to our photos when we put them in an album. We talked in class about how a photograph needs to have some sort of caption to explain the context because everyone will have a different interpretation based on their own subjective opinion. Adding a caption to photographs helps to make it a little easier for others who are looking at the picture to understand what was going on at that time and see the image the way the photographer wants it to be seen. Adding captions to our old photographs helps also give more context to our life because it helps explain what we are seeing and explain that moment in time. I could look at my baby pictures and interpret it how I would see it; however my mom may have written a caption to it that gives me further insight into her view of the event since she was there at the time.

They say pictures are worth a thousand words and can help to remind us of the past. Not necessarily of exactly what happened at the time, but we can use these images to piece together from our memory the rest. With every picture taken, you are adding to the documentation of your life.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Blog Entry Number 3

While reading this book, my initial reaction to be honest was that I was bored out of my mind. I didn’t know much about the jobs that were first being explained and I was rather bored hearing about some of them. However, as the book went on, the jobs became more interesting and I became fascinated with what people had to say about their job. His collection of stories had such a powerful effect on portraying the reality of the work force. He chose people that HE found interesting, and these people opened up their lives to the reader, allowing them to join in their work experience. I was surprised at how much personal information these interviews had, with such detail that you don’t normally hear about a job.
I found Studs Terkel has an interesting approach to documentaries. He uses the interviews to portray truth in the work force, and truth through so many different people. Instead of just simply hearing about the basics of a job, he works to find out what many different people like and dislike about it. The jobs are not sugar coated, but rather the truth is portrayed to the reader. I like how he has organized his interviews by certain categories, or chapters and subtitles such as communication, cleaning up etc. He groups his interviews in such a way so that you get to see different people’s viewpoints on similar jobs. Although it is a little outdated, it allows you to see how the life back then was; both the good and the bad times. Studs Terkel says that a job is a "search of a daily meaning, as well as a daily bread" (pg 11), and these interviews allow you to see how back then (and even today in a sense) people weren’t just looking for a paycheck but also meaning in their job and a sense of fulfillment.

This book is exactly what it says... people talking about what they do all day and what they like and don’t like about their jobs. They talk about their daily tasks at the job, what they enjoy and dislike, and issues that arise (sexism, racism etc). It seemed that in some cases many felt they had the worst or hardest job and felt trapped within it. Jim Grayson tells Terkel that on the assembly line “you’re nothing to any of them (the foremen). That’s why [he] hate[s] this place” (pg 167). Louis Hayward, the washroom attendant, says “no, I’m not proud of this work. I can’t do anything heavy. It would be hard to do anything else, so I’m stuck” (pg 108). On the other hand though, many felt they had the best jobs and wanted to show off their abilities. Phil Stallings says “I don’t mind working at body construction. To a great degree, I enjoy it. I love using my hands – more than I do my mind. I love being able to put things together and see something in the long run” (pg 162). This book allows you to see how working means so much to many people and how it is a big part of life. With many of the people interviewed it allowed you to see how meaningful work was to them and how it gave them a sense of purpose. Serving others was all these people needed to be happy. Seeing the end product and the gratitude was all many of these people cared about. I liked how the book was not just straight question and answer type interviews because this allowed the person to dive deeper into what interests them and reveal certain truths about their jobs and see how some were very passionate and emotional about what they do (such as Maggie Holmes, the house cleaner who was so upset that the white family expected her to do things that they never would such as get down on their hands and knees and clean the floor. Maggie states in her interview “now this bugs me: the first thing she gonna do is pull out this damn rubber thing –just fittin’ for your knees. Knee pads-like you’re working’ in the fields, like people pickin’ cotton...I ask her where the mop is. She says she don’t have no mop. I said. ‘Don’t tell me you mop the floor on your knees. I know you don’t’” pg 114). This quote not only shows the emotion Maggie feels for her job, but because Terkel wrote the book in the dialect of the employees, it allows you to feel like they are actually talking. Instead of correcting her speech when typed up, he kept it in its form so you get a better picture of the person he’s speaking to.

This was neat to learn more about different jobs and hear about them from the actual workers point of view. It allows you to see many of the realities of the workplace. With some jobs I felt such sympathy for the workers. Many of the workers went through so much and put up with so much, while at the same time taking care of a family on such a low income. Their employers had no idea what the people were dealing without outside of work, what it was like to be sick and still working, or having lost a loved one and still return to work; but at the same time didn’t care. To them their employees were like robots, just there to get a job done. If they had a problem, they began to phase out humans and replace them with machines because machines would not need time off. Many were older men doing hard labor and talking about how it has caused them long term pain. Some were talking about how their jobs were degrading and depressing. When some of the women were talking, you could see how they were subject to sexism, many talking about how they either did not get paid as much as men even for the same job, or some talking about how the men would hit on them all the time. Take for instance Terry Mason, an airline stewardess. She tells Terkel that “even when they pinch us or say dirty things, we’re supposed to smile at them. That’s one thing they taught us at stew school. Like he’s rubbing your body somewhere, you’re supposed to just put his hand down and not say anything and smile at him” (pg 46).

I noticed to that many of the older employees mentioned that they are such hard workers and will work overtime, long hours, never show up late and never take a day off in years because their job means so much to them. Frances Swenson, the hotel switchboard operator, states “the kids today don’t work like the older women. They take a job as it comes. If they want to work, they work. If they don’t they fool around…the older women are more loyal, they’re more conscientious, they don’t take time off” (pg 34). Hobart Foote, while talking about his job as a utility man, states “I think one reason for our absenteeism over here right now is the second shift. We got this young generation in here. Lot of ‘em single, and a lot of ‘em…They’re not settled yet, and they just live from day to day” (pg 170). Many of the older workers comment about how they are not making much money but to them it doesn’t matter because they love what they are doing. However with the younger people, they leave when they want, take days off when they want etc., because to them it is just a job. You can notice here the generation gap and how working has changed over the years already. Because this book is out of date we can really see how work back then, and for the older generation today, was so different then it is today.

Terkel adds in his own observations throughout the introductions and interviews, about what he sees and the workers reaction to what is going on around him. He also comments on certain things about the worker, whether it be their appearance, background information about the person and just observations made. This allows you to sort of draw a mental picture and learn a little about the person. It allows you to be in the spot that Terkel is in.
This book gives you a further insight into the lives of so many. It has made me look at people differently. I realized that when I go out for dinner or to a store, I don’t know anything about these people serving me and sometimes I won’t be as nice as I can be. But now I find myself a little different. Just the other day a telecommunications worker called me from Capital One. This company calls me at LEAST once or twice a week and I usually get so fed up. But after reading about the switchboard operator and how they say no one understands how hard that job is and how for once they would just like a hello how is your day going, I couldn’t just say “sorry I’m not interested”. This book was not only interesting but educational and it helped me gain insight into the workforce and have a lot more respect for many people in many different jobs. There is no such thing as useless little jobs. There is no such thing as little people; all people are equal and contribute a service to society in their own way. All these jobs link together like a chain and without them the chain would fall apart.