Gauntlet: Ghost Town Alcatraz

By Gary Fong

Photographer: Tanya Shafer

 
 
Figure 1
 
Ghost towns, or in this case, ghost prisons images of Alcatraz, lend themselves to a lot of mystical visual metaphors. Capturing the architecture of former centers of activities is one way to approach coverage, but recording the “mystic” requires more than a “mystic filter”.
 
Figure 2Figure 3
 
 
Now for the Nit Picking
 
Architectural photos strive to present the best qualities of design, functionality, and aesthetic appeal. It uses dramatic lighting to accentuate the depth and space.
 
Frank Lloyd Wright designed his buildings to be appreciated from eye level, therefore, the best photos that articulated his design creations were best photographed from eye level. 
 
Figure 4 
 
The challenge is keeping the walls straight in the photo.  Photographers who use wide lenses tend to tilt the film plane off the regimented axis of the building, therefore, the walls appear to be caving in or falling back.  Walls that appear to be perfectly straight are shot closer to the 90-degree axis of the structure, creating a very formal, very straight angle of view for the architecture. 
 
The Alcatraz building images miss the point of formal wall straightness…but leans more on the ghostly side of caving in.  The lights and shadows are harsh…perhaps a reminder of the harsh living conditions on the prison island.
 
Figure 5
 
As an architecture record of the prison buildings in the past tents, the coverage misses the mark.  As a mystical compilation of what was before…it feels incomplete.
 
It’s missing the contextual relationships to other buildings, to the overall scene-setting image, to how the details fit into the story. Alcatraz is more than a water tower, chains on bars, and bare light bulbs hanging in space. One needs to show the mystical relationship of the custodial elements to provide a better feeling of a ghostly prison. 
 
What I’d like to see is an architectural look at the prison space combined with the mystic of emptiness.  Give me that image…and I’ll never break the law ever again.