Saturday, March 30, 2013

Painting a Scene with a Cell Phone Camera

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, CAROLINA, PUERTO RICO --  I can't tell you how many times I've happened upon a scene worth photographing and thought "I wish I had my camera". But like many of us today I always have my cell phone, although I have yet to master its camera. Still, when I attempted to take pictures with it at the Race, Ethnicity and Place Conference reception in Carolina, Puerto Rico last fall something interesting happened. It was a wall-to-wall crowd, the light was terrible, and the local dancers and musicians were moving fast. It would have been difficult to take decent photographs even with my 35mm. Ironically, however, what came out of my cell phone were splashes of brightly colored but blurry and grainy images, some of which looked almost like paintings. I still don't know how that happened but I guess sometimes bad cell phone photos can make for some interesting paintings.

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

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mixed Use: The Historic Cemetery that Feels Like A Public Park

Posted by Debby and Hubert Yoder, ALTANTA, GA -- Oakland Cemetery,  right in the heart of Atlanta's Grant Park neighborhood and not far from downtown, was established in 1850 before the concept of public parks had emerged. Back then people would go to the cemetery to picnic, spend time outside and enjoy nature. Oakland has extensive pathways that wind through each section allowing one to observe the changes in Atlanta over time and the different customs to honor those who have passed. 

Designed during the period when slavery was the local practice, the cemetery was divided into separate sections for whites and Blacks. The white section is near the front with family plots featuring huge markers erected in tribute. The African American section is near the back of the original six-acre site. Blacks were typically buried without personal information, listed instead under the name of their master, many on wooden headstones that have not survived. Nearby is the open green space of Potter’s Field, where the poor were buried. 

Oakland has a large Jewish section were the graves are crowded together and feature tall headstones written in Hebrew. Many have stones left behind by visiting family members. The cemetery population grew rapidly during the Civil War and several acres were added to accommodate the soldiers who died. After the war, a number of tributes were erected. There is a Bell Tower, complete with gun turrets, to mark the spot where the Confederate commander watched the Battle of Atlanta; an obelisk, once the tallest structure in Atlanta, to mark the Confederate section; and a lion statue that guards the tombs of the unknown soldiers. In this area, the dead were buried in mass graves, sometimes because their names were not known, at others because the numbers of people who died were simply too great to accommodate individually. At the edge of this plot sit a few individual headstones erected by family members long after the war. 

Not long ago three generations paid tribute on the 150th anniversary of their ancestor’s death. The family brought a replica of his uniform jacket, made from the only known photo of him, a confederate flag and flowers to remember the young man who died of smallpox contracted during training, never having made it to battle.

Many of Atlanta’s prominent citizens are buried here including Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first Black mayor and architect of many key changes in the operations of the city, Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, golfer Bobby Jones, and Bishop Wesley John Gaines, founder of Morris Brown College.

Oakland hosts a number of events each year including Sunday in the Park when the mausoleums are opened and a costume contest held. Volunteers dress as those interred and tell their life stories. Halloween brings evening ghost tours and a Run Like Hell 5k. Recent redevelopment in the area has brought many new residents and the cemetery has the feel of a public park once again. Many neighbors jog, walk their dogs, or lounge in the green space Oakland provides. The cemetery is protected by brick walls and a sizable archway entrance. To cross under it is to escape into another world, reminiscent of stepping into New York’s Central Park from bustling Manhattan. 

Debby Yoder is a Contributor to Social Shutter as well as a student at Georgia State University majoring in Sociology. She can be contacted at Hubert Yoder is Debby's father and retired after working in information systems at McDonnell Douglas, EDS, and IBM. Photography is now his work and hobby. He can be contacted at

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Sociology Assignment: When Visual Images of Hurricane Sandy Got Personal

Leah sitting on top of her destroyed belongings after the storm.

Note from Dr. Demetra Pappas: In late-October 2012, I was preparing to give a midterm essay to my Sociology class. Then Hurricane Sandy hit and I decided to provide an out-of-class exercise option for my students.  This visual sociology exercise allowed students to capture something that touched them personally about the storm. One by Valia Haskopoulos and Kelsey Papanicolaou told the story of their friend, Leah Vanden Bosch, whose home in Long Beach was destroyed.  

Posted by Valia Haskopoulos and Kelsey Papanicolaou, LONG BEACH, NY -- Television viewers from around the world saw image after image of the devastation Hurricane Sandy caused -- a storm that quickly became known as the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history. In fact it was the strongest storm to hit the Tristate region. Those of us in the area who escaped its devastation breathed a sigh of relief. But that relief was quickly quelled by personal news reels of the devastation friends and family experienced. Witnessing this brings the social and visual constructions of disaster into a very harsh and personal perspective that cannot be experienced by viewing images on TV, the internet, or in newspapers. 

 Sewer water surged out of Leah's bathtub during the storm.

Our friend Leah Vanden Bosch's house was severely flooded by Sandy. She had recently moved to Long Beach, Long Island in May of 2012 and loved living five blocks from the beach. The idea of having to evacuate or lose her home had never crossed her mind. Thankfully, she packed a few boxes, placed all her valuables and sentimental belongings on her bed, adhered to the evacuation protocols, and stayed with a friend on higher ground for the duration of storm. Once Sandy had passed she returned. The look on her face as she sits on top of all her destroyed belongings tells a deeply personal story of how people experience natural disaster. Her home had been flooded with three to four feet of water, sewage had surged out of the bathtub drain eventually covering the once beige floors all over the house, and knocking the refrigerator violently to the wall. Basically everything was destroyed except what she had placed on her bed. Leah stood in shock as she showed us the pictures she took of what was left of her home, and the storm as it surged on Long Beach. She is now living with the Haskopoulos family until she finds a new home. So perhaps, because of her social support networks she is one of the lucky ones.

     Leah's destroyed belongings piled curbside for pick up by Sanitation.

Leah’s fence surrounding the property outside her home. The muddy residue is a clear indication of how high the water level from the storm surge reached.

Leah's floors were once beige. The refrigerator no longer works.

The stormy ocean swallowed sand dunes created to keep the water from the boardwalk.

 Again, the floors were beige before the storm.

Valia Haskopoulos and Kelsey Papanicolaou are students at St Francis College and were in Dr. Pappas's class. Images by Leah Vanden Bosch and Kelsey Papanicolaou. Photo captions by Valia Haskopoulas.  

Dr. Demetra M. Pappas, who holds a JD from Fordham University School of Law, an MSc in Criminal Justice Policy from the London School of Economics and a PhD from the LSE (Department of Law and Department of Sociology).  She currently teaches in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College, where she was named 2011/2012 Faculty Member of the Year.  Her first book, The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate, which was published by Greenwood Press in 2012, has been nominated for the 2013 British Society of Criminology Book Prize.