Saturday, July 30, 2011

21st Century Punk?

Posted by Angie Luvara, WASHINGTON, DC – No this isn’t about The Sex Pistols. I wasn’t even born back then. But perhaps in their spirit, I tend to say a lot of controversial things. I readily speak out about crooked police officers and government officials; inform people on the dangers of giant corporations like Monsanto spoiling our food; and constantly point out how our education and criminal justice systems are failing our youth. And in that essence of empirically-based discontent -- just like Sex Pistols --  I guess that my following words are controverial: “I like Odd Future.” (Oh, and, by the way, I'm not on drugs. In fact, as a 20-something year-old person with a Masters degree, I'm just expressing myself.)


Odd Future, a group of young people from California, are quickly rising in the ranks of the Punk/Rap music world. Simultaneously, they are developing a rather large conglomerate of people who are adamantly opposed to their music, art, fashion -- and actually; pretty much anything tied to them. They have rather cryptic lyrics — with references to devil worshipping and violence — and rather cryptic visuals to go along with them. The visuals include upside down crosses, and a music video for one song where the group’s infamous leader, Tyler, The Creator, hangs himself. While Tyler and other members of the group have explained that these lyrics and visuals are just artistic expression, the general public has been outraged (hey Tipper where are you now?).

But I like them. I think they are great artists, even though I have religious beliefs that are counter-intuitive to their lyrics. This makes me wonder about a bunch of things. For example, why is it that there is something about anti-religious music lyrics that makes most Americans uncomfortable, regardless of their belief system? I think Odd Future is making people feel uncomfortable about this for a very good reason. They refer to “666”, and use other satanic symbolism to raise people’s heads about hypocrisy.  In fact, Odd Future members have readily admitted that they don’t worship the devil – instead they are calling attention to those people who suddenly turn religious when references to the devil are being made.

Most important, however, Odd Future conveys a realistic view of the social issues that this country faces today. They talk about the things wrong with the education system, and have even written a song where the chorus includes a figurative phrase: “kill people, burn shit, fuck school.” They see how vapid the more popular musical genres have become -- and vividly describe how they would like to murder (again, figuratively) some mainstream artists (yo, auto-tune really needs to be used more sparingly). They also see things they don’t like about fashion, and therefore dress completely different. They see things wrong with hip hop performances, and thus perform more like punk rock artists—complete with stage dives, mosh pits, bloody noses, and broken bones. However, regarding that "punk thing", obviously no matter how controversial Odd Future may seem, they are clearly NOT The Six Pistols. Well, except for the fact that like The Sex Pistols, many find Odd Future repulsive even though the band has clearly reached disenfranchised "others". Likewise, let's not sugar-coat this: those "others" include people of all ages, from a variety of educational backgrounds, who have been screwed over by the "system". (Investment bankers do not apply).

Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter, as well as a new Doctoral student in Sociology at Georgia State University. The images seen here are from the Odd Future show at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington, DC on May 18th. To see more images from this show and others, see her blog

Saturday, July 23, 2011

To a Job Well Done

Posted by Adrienne Miller, CAPE CANAVERAL, FL -- I spent a good portion of my adult life working in aviation, and I have always been intrigued by flight and space travel. So you can imagine how excited I was to be part of a special tour of the Space Shuttle facilities -- a tour culminating with the launch of Atlantis STS 135, the program’s final mission. Because the shuttle program was ending, NASA employees had created a tribute wall with all of their signatures in the shuttle’s main engine processing facility.  While uncertainty looms as to future space endeavors in the United States, what became readily certain to me during my tour was just how many dedicated people with diverse areas of expertise had contributed to this piece of history while it was in the making.

 We were first taken around the main engine processing facility.  There is no way to prepare oneself for the size and scope of these incredible engines that power the shuttle into orbit until you actually see them. The thruster ‘cone’ is huge.  It is hard to imagine the magnitude of heat, flame and power that release through it.  The vehicle assembly building is equally enormous -- making it difficult to capture its size was a small camera. 


We were then taken to the building where spacecraft are de-commissioned.  The first shot I took was from under the nose gear bay, with its doors opened wide.  Standing under the belly of the spacecraft, looking forward, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind and how it might have felt to have a giant spacecraft hovering over your head.  It was surreal to look up at this thing called the shuttle and know that it has been to space and back, blasted off from the Launch pad under tremendous combustion power.  The exterior’s tiles are actually very small, measuring about six or seven square inches. These tiles protect the spacecraft from both extreme heat and cold.  We were able to hold one. Surprisingly, they felt a little like Styrofoam in texture and weight. 

Our final tour stop for the day was the launch pad. This really was a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.  One surprising sight was the hundreds of NASA cameras, varying in shape and size, mounted alongside the bushes lining the perimeter of the area.  They are remote controlled as no living creature in that proximity to a launch would live to tell about it.

The next day was the launch and all systems were set for take off.  Fueling the tanks had begun in the wee hours of the morning.  We were taken to the operations support building for the pre-launch NASA briefing.  The room was filled with politicians, space program officials (U.S. and other countries), celebrities, and, of  course, us.  Astronauts from previous missions spoke, the head of the program spoke, and we were briefed on the sequence of events that would happen at the launch pad.  We were told, however, that any mission can be scrubbed at the five-minute mark if conditions deteriorate or if a mechanical problem occurs. 

After the briefing we went outside to the viewing balcony, which is the required three miles from the launch pad.  Below us was the giant media “campground” with TV cameras, tents, trucks, platforms, and people.  It was almost like observing a carnival.  In nervous anticipation, we waited to see if the launch was going to happen.  Five minutes before take off an announcement came over the public address system. The shuttle would launch as scheduled.  Moments later we heard the official voice counting down and then the rocket engines firing up. We eagerly took one photograph after another as the clouds of exhaust grew, and flames below the engines became evident.  They got brighter and bigger, creating a huge cloud stretching out on both sides of the shuttle. Even as far away as our viewing balcony you could feel the intense vibrations as the shuttle lifted off.

And then, what seemed like less then millisecond later, the cloud cover was pierced by the spacecraft, leaving only the long trail of exhaust beneath as proof that it was up there or that it had ever been on the ground.

Adrienne Miller is a recent graduate from Georgia State University with a major in Sociology.  She is also a freelance photographer who has traveled the world taking photographs of everyday life. She has a website dedicated to her photographs of the people of Tanzania called Faces. You can also view her previous Social Shutter posts: On the Roads of India and The People of Zanzibar. She can be contacted at You can view more of her NASA photographs on our Facebook page.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Undying Deindustrialization -- Even When Obsolete Factories get Great Art

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, NORTH ADAMS, MA – Twelve years ago The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) opened on a 13 acre factory complex that had fallen victim to deindustrialization. In fact, the entire City of North Adams had fallen on hard times after the former owner of the complex, Sprague Electric, closed its doors in 1990. What was left was a city with a declining population, pervasive unemployment, growing poverty, and the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the state. MASS MoCA was an ambitious redevelopment project that was years in the making, and involved massive amounts of state and private investment focused a city in rapid decline, and one in endanger of losing its city status. So it shouldn't be surprising that the opening of MASS MoCA was met with both optimism and hope. Indeed, an innovative feature of the museum is its economic and commercial development component. To offset operating costs and encourage job growth some of the buildings in the factory complex were renovated and leased out to all types of businesses, including restaurants, photography studios, graphic design firms, and law offices. Since its opening, MASS MoCA has become a museum of international acclaim and boasts an annual attendance of 120,000, ranking it among the most visited contemporary art museums in the United States. In addition, during the early-to-mid 2000s performing ventures for music, dance, film, and theatre were added, as was the Center for Creative Community Development, a national research and policy organization operated by nearby Williams College.

Yet from MASS MoCA’s parking lots, dilapidated but occupied multi-family housing structures remain readily apparent. While parts of the Center Business District show signs of improvement, the overall built environs of the city have not changed much. This begs the question as to how effective MASS MoCA has been at revitalizing North Adams in a holistic and inclusive fashion.

With the recently released U.S. Census and American Community Survey (ACS) data we can examine a few trends that may shed some light on this question. In 2000 the population of North Adams was 14,681, down from 16,797 in 1990, and representing a decrease of 2,116, or a percent change of 12.6. To put this in perspective, the percent change between 1980 and 1990 was -7.7. By 2010 the city’s population was 13,941, a decrease of 710 people, or a percent change of five. Thus, while the city’s population continued to decrease in the decade since MASS MoCA opened its doors, that decrease had slowed by over half.  If we look at changes in per capita income, modest increases are apparent. Specifically, in 2000 the per capita income was $27,601. By 2010 is had grown to $29,675 – an increase of $2,074 (adjusting for inflation). The poverty rate had also decreased: in 2000 that rate was 18.2 percent; by 2010 it was 13.3, or about five percent less. Perhaps the most positive sign is that despite the 2008 housing crisis and ensuing economic melt down, the city’s vacancy rate had only increased by two percent (from 11 percent in 2000 to 13.4 percent in 2010). Other cities -- large and small -- have fared far worse.

All of these changes are essentially positive -- or at least moving in the right direction. But they are also very modest. If Mass MoCA had brought the boom expected, the city’s population should have increased; per capita income increased a good deal more; and poverty decreasing at a greater rate. What this implies is that while MASS MoCA has certainly benefited the city and the surrounding region, it has not necessarily benefited all the citizens of North Adams. This is a problem endemic to most large-scale redevelopment initiatives which assume that by increasing the incoming cash flow, the end result will be the all-to-well accepted Reaganomic trickle down effect. But successes like Mass MoCA only trickle down so far. Nonetheless, looking backwards on Mass MoCA, we surely can not say that it has hurt the city. And yet, while its multi-use innovations and dedication to new art are state-of-the-art, its commitment to North Adams as a whole is rather limited. In fact, the damage caused by previous deindustrialization remains shamefully present. Perhaps now that Mass MoCA has become such a great success, the organization can devote more attention to improving the sustainability and economic health of the entire city. We can only hope.

Deirdre Oakley is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University and the Editor of Social Shutter. She can be contacted at

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Will the Growth Machine Destroy New York City’s Famous Street Art Mecca?

Posted by Angie Luvara, LONG ISLAND CITY, NY -- Every time I go to New York City, I make a point to visit my favorite place in all the boroughs—5Pointz. 5Pointz is located in Long Island City – a part of Queens closest to Manhattan. There, a 200,000 square foot abandoned warehouse building stands covered with art, and taking up an entire city block.  Some might call this art annoying graffiti. Yet it’s not the scribbles and gang symbols that cover many abandoned buildings – it is instead beautiful, colorful street art murals. Not only are these murals some of the most amazing I’ve ever seen, but they’re constantly changing. Every time I visit it’s like seeing a new street art museum exhibit. Every single inch of the place is covered in layers of spray paint—even the columns supporting the trains passing overhead, the trash bins, and the orange traffic cones! Unfortunately, 5Pointz is in danger of being gobbled up by greedy private real estate interests.  If this growth machine wins, the beautiful art covering the old warehouse will be gone forever.
Graffiti artist Meres One began transforming the old warehouse in 2001, after it had been abandoned for about a year. Over the next five years, he turned the building into an outdoor art gallery. Artists must obtain permission to paint, which is how 5Pointz maintains such high quality street art on its walls. More prominent spaces are reserved for accomplished street artists, and less accessible spaces are offered to newer artists to hone their craft. Artists from all over the United States and the world have painted here, and pieces stay up from one day to two years, depending on the quality of the work.
But Meres One’s goals for 5Pointz—to create an international graffiti museum and school for aspiring street artists—may be thwarted by a local developer’s plans to convert the old warehouse building into a high-rise residential tower and luxury shopping mall. Since this announcement last March support for 5Pointz has flourished. Supporters have signed petitions and made videos and other projects in support of maintaining the street art Mecca. The very thought of this amazing, one-of-a-kind masterpiece being razed to put up cookie cutter condos makes me sick to my stomach. To learn more about 5Pointz visit their website and to sign the petition to save 5Pointz click here.

Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter. Next month she will begin the Sociology Doctoral Program at Georgia State University where she will pursue her interests in the visual study of social issues. You can view more of her work at

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Danish Allotments Offer More Than Just Vegetables

Posted by Annette Jorgensen, OUTSKIRTS OF KOLDING TOWN, DENMARK -- In Denmark, allotments ('kolonihaver') are much more than places to grow a few vegetables. Originally set up by philanthropists as spaces where the urban poor could go to produce some of their own food, the kolonihaver became popular during the previous century’s early decades. The kolonihaver initiative began as part of a wider movement to improve the quality of life of lower wage inner city residents. While similar movements occurred to some degree in other European countries, in Denmark, allotments have developed into spaces for all kinds of social life. For example, these are places where you bring Granny for coffee and cake on a Sunday afternoon, or your friends for a few beers on Wednesday evenings during the summer months. They are hybrid spaces that can serve a number of functions besides putting a garden salad on the table.

Kolonihaver are also spaces where you can express your creativity and let your imagination run free. Most kolonihaver have a tool shed that doubles as a home away from home, with furniture, patios, bicycles, crokery, and cutlery. Sometimes they even have favorite pieces of art and crafts. But what I really love about them is that they are all so different. Some of these ‘houses’ are bought ready made, while others are created from salvaged scrap. Some gardens seem to have a purely instrumental function, serving as a place to produce one's own food. Most have an abundance of flowers. But others have nothing but grass and children's toys. In recent decades, some gentrification of allotment spaces has taken place: producing your own vegetables has become trendy amongst younger, middle class couples. However, this process has not deterred the original allotment gardeners, and, in fact, all sorts of people seem to be represented here, across class, age group and ethnic origin. Immigrants tend to quickly embrace this particular Danish tradition, bringing with them new plant varieties and ways of growing. And although winter is particularly harsh in Denmark, because of their multiple uses, allotments are still lively places during these cold and snowy months.

Annette Jorgensen is a Sociologist based in Dublin, Ireland. She is a lecturer in social science at Dublin Business School. She completed her doctoral degree in sociology at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, in 2010. She is author of the blog, Invisible Pictures, where you can view more of her work, which includes an ongoing comparative study of allotments in Denmark and Ireland.  You can contact Annette at annette.jorgensen@db​