Natsumi Hayashi’s levitation photos

The main focus of Natsumi Hayashi’s work is her levitation photos, as seen in this photo album. Using a camera with a shutter speed of 1/500thof a second, Hayashi photographs herself “levitating” in the urban setting of Tokyo. While many people associate the act of levitating with that of jumping, there is indeed a noticeable difference, as Hayashi claims. Jumping is simply the action of moving up, with many movements in between. However, levitating emphasizes the “natural flow of time”, in  which Hayashi meticulously makes a specific pose for the picture while in flight. The difference between a “jump photo” and a “levitation photo” can be seen below.

Many movements are involved in this "jump photo" (courtesy of

In contrast, Hayashi is smooth in her "levitation" (© Natsumi Hayashi)

In the first photo, a group of hikers are jumping — no symmetry, no flow However, in the latter photo, which was taken from the photo album, Hayashi truly gives the illusion of levitation. Her pose reflects grace and beauty, which meshes with the serene and empty setting. Her streaming hair and her nonchalant expression further enhances this illusion. Not to mention, the colors of her outfit contrast with the lighter colors in the foreground. These intricacies produce an elegant photo, and gives it an almost surreal feel. Unlike the Santa Muertephoto essay, I didn’t feel it was totally necessary to read the text below. Instead of he shock factor in the Santa Muerte, there was a “wow” factor in Hayashi’s photo album. I could already sense the difference between a jump photo and a levitation photo, without reading the text underneath


“Embedded in Afghanistan” by Finbarr O’Reilly

The impressive “Embedded in Afghanistan” photo essay by Finbarr O’Reilly truly has a profound effect on its viewers. From  the placement of the  images to the captions, O’Reilly demonstrates the epitome of an effective photo essay. The story being told in these 25 photos is very clear — to show the world what quotidien life in present-day Afghanistan entails. We see the the perspectives from the American soldiers as well as from the native Afghans that are unfortuantely placed into the seemingly eternal war. Despite the vast cultural differences, O’Reilly ties them together by placing the Americans and Afghans in corresponding situations in adjacent photos. For example, the first two photos depict an American soldier weightlifting and an Afghan soldier sleeping, respectively. Despite all the negative coverage spewed out the media, people in Afghanistan, whether soldiers or natives, are actually human beings who attempt to live a life the “normal way.” O’ Reilly’s photos open up minds that many aspects of life in America exist in Afghanistan: town meetings, reading comprehension lessons, and the innocence of children. To be frank, the captions seem to be unnecessary. The photos speak to me; hence, I know the story of every frame without ever reading the text. This is a testament to O’Reilly’s work, since his photos of excercise, learning, water, gatherings, children, and of course, guns elicits a theme of occasional normalcy in this war-torn region.

Marines from the First Battalion Eighth Marines Alpha Company watch a video on a computer in their living quarters at an outpost in Kunjak in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, February 18, 2011. REUTERS-Finbarr O'Reilly

A band of brothers
Photo by Finbarr O'Reilly

 The second part of “Embedded in Afghanistan,” is a nice complement to the first version. Instead of reading captions, the viewer listens to the “captions” by hearing Sgt. Thomas James Brennan’s commentary and other auditive pieces, such as gunshots and short conversations between the soldiers. As much as I appreciated O’Reilly’s photo album in the first version, I found the combination of visual presentation with audio to be more powerful especially since the audio generates a new dimension to the project. By simply hearing him commending his fellow soldiers’ bravery despite the heavy concussions they suffered, you immediately have an emotional response. You are part of the action, with the shots and shouts of war. You felt a father’s pain of not seeing his young daughter in her early years. You hear his pride in serving our country overseas. In essence, the story is the same — life in Afghanistan. But the audio places you in that setting of the vast, arid lands of Afghanistan. O’Reilly’s expertise in combining sounds with pictures brings the album to life, a talent that demonstrates the brevity and sheer effectiveness of “composing with images.”

“Santa Muerte” photo essay

On Jan Sochor’s website, I viewed the photo essay “Santa Muerte,” which takes place in Mexico. If you knew the minimal amount of Spanish, muerte means “death” and santa means “saint.” When initially viewing the photos, the images of death, skeletons, and tatoos convinced me that the habitants of this Mexican town were followers of a death cult, which was truly fascinating to me. It was frightening to see children participate in this parade, with many of them celebrating the “death festival.” The photos create a narrative of “death worshippers” who parade through the streets and elaborately dress skeletons, as if they were gods. Young men pay hommage by inking the image of the skeleton and his scythe on thier backs, while the women and children dance and make idols for decorations.

For this particular photo essay, in my opinion, it is imperative to read the text underneath. The interplay between the images and words is significant, since it is  a prime example of the additive combination. In a nutshell, the text explains and the context of images. Followers of “Santa Muerte” are not part of a death cult, but just followers of  a “syncretic fusion of Aztec death veneration rituals and Catholic beliefs.” Without such prior knowledge, one can easily infer that the people present in the photo essay are obsessed with the macabre, and they believe that Saint Death is the overlord of the universe. This is not the case, since followers of “Santa Muerte” are pious Catholics. Many of them worship idols of Jesus and La Niña Blanca (an epithet for Santa Muerte) simultaneously during prayer. All in all, it was interesting viewing this photo essay before and after gaining the background knowledge of the event being photographed.