Analyzing Visuals from the Gulf Coast

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I’m starting to make progress on my Visual Content Analysis project that I blogged about earlier. “Progress” meaning that I’ve narrowed my focus to an idea that hopefully the professor will approve and that hopefully will be manageable for a semester project.

Sticking with my interest in environmental issues, and trying to follow the guidelines for content analyses (large body of items to study, focusing on content of artifacts and not meaning), I’ve decided to look at photographic images of the Gulf oil spill from May (and ongoing) of this year. There are thousands of those, so I’m going to narrow the field and look at images on websites of conservation/environmental groups. These organizations have a specific agenda regarding the spill, and I think that will give me an interesting angle in analyzing photos of the disaster that they publish.

I’m particularly interested in human representation in the images – and lack thereof. By human representation, I’m referring to whether or not there are humans featured in photos of the spill. Coverage of the event has been fairly split, into photos showing strictly oil and the Gulf of Mexico, oil as it affects animals in the Gulf, or humans involved in cleaning up the Gulf. Conservation groups focus a lot of their time, resources, and energy on actively participating in efforts to “save” the planet. They also spend a lot of their digital space promoting their actions and showing how much they are a part of. Hence, many images on these sites show humans interacting with the environment, or as many ecofeminists may argue, subordinating it to humans (see Gaard, 1993). So what about representations of the Gulf oil spill, the largest environmental disaster in United States history? So many images thus far focus on the sheer immensity of the disaster and devastation it has wrought on the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico. How might the conservation groups portray this event on their websites? I still have to flesh out a couple of hypotheses and conduct an actual sampling of the websites I’ve selected, but these musings are a good start.

The selections I’ll look at:
 The Nature Conservancy’s page on their efforts in the Gulf of Mexico has a special multimedia feature on the oil spill, as reported by photographer Bridget Besaw.

The World Wildlife Fund website features Dr. Darren Collin’s blog about his work in the Gulf.

Did you know that The Sierra Club has a Flickr account? Now you do, and they have a substantial collection of photos from the Gulf, including this one.

I think that these three groups will be enough, if I randomly select twenty photos from each of the websites. If you have any suggestions of national conservation organizations that I’ve left out and think I should consider, please let me know!

P.S. I found this NY Times photographer’s blog during my search, and although I can’t use it for my project because of the parameters I’ve set, it’s still worth looking at. These were some of the first images published from the spill that gave a true perspective of the damage – and not from BP’s tightly-controlled publications of the situation.

3 thoughts on “Analyzing Visuals from the Gulf Coast

  1. I have to say, one of my favorite presentations that I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot) had to be your take on feminist ecology and nature websites. Very intriguing, and made me think about how perception is sometimes completely ruled by the images chosen to accompany them.

  2. Thanks, Amy! This project, as you probably figured out, is an extension of my interests in that project and an attempt to solidify my research methods to hopefully be able to submit it to a journal. I’ll definitely keep you (the blog) updated on my progress.

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