Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tourists vs. Nature: The Eternal Summer Debate

Posted by Angie Luvara, YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WYOMING -- Every summer, thousands of people from all over the United States and the world flock to one of nature’s most beautiful sights—Yellowstone National Park. Backpackers, bicyclists, and hippies mix with families in minivans and rented RVs at the parks many sights. From waterfalls, to geysers, to lush fields, to snow-capped mountains, Yellowstone offers some of the most diverse scenes in nature that I’ve ever seen in one place. Yet in between moments of pure awe at nature’s amazing beauty, I did notice something else—the clash between visitors and the wild.
Yes, Yellowstone is a National Park. Yes, it costs $25 just to drive into the park. Yes, there are at least four visitor centers, complete with large restroom areas, throughout the park. Most surprisingly, since we hadn’t had cell phone service for hours, yes, there is 3G wireless service available near the parks most famous attraction—Old Faithful.
Yet, despite all these conveniences (or, not-so-conveniences, like the entrance fee), visitors are still very much in the wild. On several occasions, we approached a sight that we planned on stopping to see (with a convenient parking lot close by), only to find signs that read “Stay In Cars. Keep Moving Next ½ Mile. Bear Activity.”  Now, when we saw a sign like that, we followed instructions! However, not all visitors exhibited the same level of obedience. Despite signs that warned visitors that buffalo can run over three times faster than humans, we witnessed tourists approaching sleeping buffalo—from just several feet away! In areas labeled a “thermal zone”, described by warning signs as a place where, if stepped on, the earth could open up and a new geyser could form, we were surrounded by people allowing toddlers to toddle along the lifted wooden walkway—with no railing—with no concern at all that they may fall over the edge into a pool of boiling water. Upon a hike down a trail that was only 3/8 of a mile long, but dropped 600 feet in that short distance, I saw parents allowing children to race down and up the narrow trail that offered no protection between the trail and the steep, rocky drop to the bottom of the canyon.
I developed a strong sense of nature’s power growing up in the middle of the West Virginia wilderness, so it’s natural that I would feel nervous around some of the park’s visitors. No matter how many cell phone towers are built, no matter how many convenient restrooms, parking lots, and signs directing you to attractions you pass, you are still very much in the wild when visiting places like Yellowstone. And, while many of the tourists made me nervous with their antics, a little piece of me was happy to know that nature still has the final say, and humans—no matter how hard we try—can’t control everything.
Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter. She is also a new Doctoral student in Sociology at Georgia State University. To view more of her photography, go to her blog at

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Wall Where Your Wad of Chewed Gum is More than Welcome

Posted by Angie Luvara, SEATTLE, WA -- I grew up with a smelly older brother, and my father is a football coach so I spent hours with his football players as a child—from the locker room to the field to the weight room. I myself am an avid runner and have pairs and pairs of old, smelly running shoes lying around. In other words, I’ve been around a lot of germs. Given this history, it shouldn’t be difficult to imagine that I’m the furthest thing from a germophobe. I firmly believe kids should be allowed to get dirty—it boosts their immune systems (so I’ve heard). You can tell me a gross story while I’m eating and it won’t even phase me. Even the bloodiest of injuries won’t stop me from going into fix-it, problem-solver mode. However, Seattle’s Gum Wall stopped me dead in my tracks.
While on a cross-country trip with a friend of mine, I innocently posted this status on Facebook: “Made it to Seattle!” One of my Facebook friends responded with “Go see the Gum Wall”. That’s when my journey to nastiness began. I found myself in the middle of the Pike Place Market following a friend of mine who knew exactly where the Gum Wall was. Despite its descriptive name, I was still not prepared for the sights and smells I experienced when we turned the corner. What lie ahead of me was about 50 feet of brick alley, covered in varying shades, shapes, sizes, and smells of gum that reached 15 feet high.
As soon as we turned that corner, and I was hit with the strong scent of pancake syrup (yes, pancake syrup, and I haven’t eaten pancakes since), I was immediately disgusted. As we walked down the alley, and I saw parents issuing gum to their children to chew and subsequently adhere to the wall, I wanted to rescue them from the impending ickiness of touching thousands of others’ previously chewed pieces of gum when they went to stick theirs on the wall. And at the point when a piece of wayward gum that missed the Gum Wall and landed on the ground tried to hitch a ride on my flip flop, I was ready to go.

The Gum Wall sits right next to a theatre. Apparently theatre employees tried on several occasions to scrape the Gum Wall clean, only to have new germy and colorful wads return. In 1999, the Pike Place Market deemed it a tourist attraction, and theater employees gave up their attempts to keep the wall clean.
Nonetheless, despite all the nastiness I encountered at the Gum Wall, I secretly enjoyed some parts. I’m always attracted to vivid colors and, if I tried really hard to forget the whole previously-chewed gum thing, the Gum Wall was kind of pretty. In fact, my most favorite part was a ledge that someone had lined with varying shades of heart-shaped gum wads. I know, I know. I’m a sucker for anything heart-shaped. After all, “luv” is the first part of my last name! But, by far the most fascinating part of the Gum Wall was the idea that one tiny, socially frowned-upon act (sticking your used gum to a wall) could grow to such magnitude that thousands of others are drawn to commit that same socially frowned-upon act every year. On the inside, my heart was going “Score one for the social deviants…and the gum wads.”
Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter. She is also a new Doctoral student in Sociology at Georgia State University. To view more of her photography, go to her blog at

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Graffiti in Knit

Posted by Chandra Ward, FREEDOM PARK, ATLANTA, GA -- There is an underground movement taking place in cities across the globe by the most unlikely urban insurgents: guerrilla knitters.  You may stumble upon this artwork, also known as knit graffiti, on trees and benches in a city park, or other inanimate objects inhabiting public spaces. Here in Atlanta, knit graffiti has peacefully encroached upon the landscape, draping itself around manmade and natural artifacts, much like kudzu, only friendlier. This movement, with its origins claimed by two middle class white women in Houston, goes by Knitta Please. While this phrase is problematic in its own right, and has sparked a fair amount controversy, in the end Knitta is about domestic subversion of the public sphere. 

Knitting has traditionally been a gender-segregated activity primarily confined to the private, domestic domain. In recent decades, however, knitters have begun to integrate their craft into more public parts of their lives -- like during meetings or other activities where they are sitting still for a period of time.  You'll find them listening while knitting away, or even carrying on a conversation while their hands do all the work.  However, knit graffiti has taken knitting to a whole other realm: inanimate objects in public urban spaces.  Graffiti itself has also traditionally been a gendered activity, whereby urban male youth of color express themselves in a public arena that does not otherwise offer a venue for them.  Knit graffiti, brings another group traditionally without public venue into the public sphere: women.

Knittas, also known as Yarn Bombers, have created an art form where two, seemingly opposing worlds collide.  They take inspiration from graffiti and marry it with their June Cleaver-esque craft, “tagging” the likes of park benches, door handles, bicycles, and even cars “clothed” in beautiful strands of brilliantly pieced together yarns.  Yet, the one thing I wonder about is how knit graffiti holds up to the weather. Unlike spray paint yarn can shrink when it gets wet, and perhaps begin to unravel.  There’s also the potential mildew issue. Still, while the official word from law enforcement is that graffiti is vandalism, knitted or not, according to a recent New York Times article, yarn bombers indicate that they seldom have run-ins with the law. To be sure, while many cities have graffiti removal taskforces, I’m not aware of any focusing on the knitted version. 

Chandra D. Ward is a Doctoral student in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. She is also Social Shutter’s Assistant Editor, and a Team Leader on the GSU Urban Health Initiative, a project examining the impact of public housing demolition and relocation in Atlanta. You can contact her at

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Prayer and Tourism

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – Very few places in the world represent such a striking juxtaposition of prayer and tourism as St. Isaac’s Cathedral (Isaakievskii sobor). This magnificent and cavernous cathedral turned museum can hold up to 14,000 standing worshippers. Not only does a steady stream of tourists come and go everyday of the week except Wednesday when St. Isaac’s is closed, but locals come to pray on a regular basis as well. Observing them, I wondered what they thought of the sea of noisy tourists who seemed oblivious to the fact that there were actually people there to pray. Even in the area with the prayer candles, you could hear the echoes of voices and cameras. (Note: contrary to some information on the web, you can take photographs in the cathedral). But I guess St. Isaac’s belongs to St. Petersburg and its citizens -- a fact that the tourists can not take away.

Indeed St. Isaac’s has dominated the St. Petersburg skyline for over 150 years. Designed by French architect Auguste de Montferrand, St. Isaac’s Cathedral is the largest Russian Orthodox place of worship in St. Petersburg, and the largest domed cathedral in the world. It took 40 years to build and opened in 1858, the same year Montferrand died. Unfortunately, I don't think he ever got to pray there.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. You can contact her at