Road and Street (symbols)

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, May 20, 2017.

  1. "Road" and "street" are not the same.


    In the face of chaos and a sense that the events of life are random, it offers something linear, a suggestion of meaning.

    ... Whatever the situation, one can "be on the right track" or can "fall by the wayside," or, soberingly, be on the wrong path or on the way to a dead end.

    The road can also simply stand for the natural course of one's life, with all its beauties, changes of direction, adventures and rough spots, and its eventual destination, death. Variously it is understood as "the path of duty"; the "open road" of adventure, release and freedom; the aimless track of man the wanderer, which leads back to its beginnings. Our times emphasize "going my (own) way," not the traditional way nor the way that is expected by others. — from The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images​

    Examples of "road":

    The Road West by Dorothea Lange
    Winter Road I by Georgia O'Keeffe

    ... but also think of any of Lange's Grapes of Wrath style pictures of over-loaded broken-down vehicles on the road. Or any of the Rt. 66 style Kerouac kind of road-trip photo essays. Not to mention the appearance of roads in many of member's landscape photographs.



    Streets are the circulatory system of entire cities and towns. They regulate traffic, give access and organize the orderly flow of life. ... Abutted by sidewalks and buildings where people shop, live and meet, streets represent the intersection of our domestic and communal engagements, a place where the practical, routine functions of life are invigorated by chance. As such, they convey the spontaneity of the unexpected, as well as the familiar "walks" of collective culture, including its squalor, crime, industry, learning and romance.

    ... But while street may resonate with a poignant sense of belonging, the image also conveys an opposition to the state of being "homed." One who has none is "out on the streets" and makes his rude and temporary dwelling there. The streets are where outcasts and urchins furtively interact with the society that neglects them; the "streetwise" among them are those who know how to negotiate the perilous urban "jungle" and survive.

    ... The street of one's childhood may evoke a sense of both security and limitation, of the "way" from here to there, or a dead end to nowhere. A street may bring people together or separate those who live on one side from those who live "on the other side of the street." But while the character of a street is determined by the caprices of nature and the human life that flows through and around it, the sameness and surprises of the street in their turn shape, determine and transfigure the lives of those who traverse them. — also from The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images​

    You can find many good examples of "street" pictures in our own Street and Documentary forum.

    "Street" is almost always the backdrop to what's going on in it. I can think of a few instances where it's an active player (some of Paul Graham's for example) but usually it's not. "Road" on the other hand seems to me to almost never be a backdrop. It's often the lead player or at least the first supporting actor of pictures in which its featured.

    For me, "road" pictures are about a "there" that's out of the picture. They're make me think "Where?" and "Why?"

    For me, "street" pictures are already "there." They make me wonder "Who?," first and then, from whatever "who" I get out of the picture, "Why?"

    You might think that street is to do with being in a city and road are everywhere else. But in small towns all around the rural countryside, you'll find towns with one Main Street down which they have their annual Christmas and July 4 parades and where children ride their bikes.

    When does a road become a street or a street become a road? Do you find it interesting, or engaging when you can't tell which it is? When there's confusion about whether the road/street is staying or leaving?
    Allen Herbert likes this.
  2. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Good stuff.

    Roads are too, but between towns rather than within towns; think arterial roads. Roads encourage openess and diversification, streets are closed, specialized and would wither without roads.
  3. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    I like a mish-mash. Activity on an open road.
  4. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

  5. Good example, Norman. I was thinking about a lot of Eggleston's stuff. He works the ragged edges, too.
  6. My street. 999 20140727_2362.jpg
  7. My road. Definitely not a street. Yes, that is a "road": it's owned by the state and is State Maintained even it's a mile to any other person's home. Photo was taken on the way to vote at 6:00 AM in 2008.

  8. The "Mother Road", or, at least, a piece of what's left of it...
    Rte 66-7397a-sml.jpg
  9. This is exactly the rationale behind my choice of Route 66 for this topic. It has taken on a near-mythical character in the American cultural iconography, becoming the backdrop for stories, books, songs, movies, photographs, paintings, and even television shows. The mere mention of Route 66 conjures some picture in the mind's eye of many, if not most, American adults. Is there any other road, at least in North America, that engenders symbolic meaning to the same degree? (I have to admit, I am a Westerner, born and bred, so I don't have the same perception of Broadway, Pennsylvania Avenue, or Wall Street that some others might. I will concede that they have their own place in the American symbolic iconography as well.)
  10. Norman 202 likes this.
  11. This image, too, is of Route 66, as an urban street running through the middle of Barstow, California, but it is of much more quotidian nature. I doubt this is the image of Route 66 most frequently conjured by cultural references.
    Rte 66-7118a-sml.jpg
  12. I also think the symbol can symbolize the opposite from the beginning for different people. I have the same association as you to nighttime forest roads, but my friend, Marcia, who lives up in the Northern California wilderness takes those roads much more in stride. Rather than elevated alertness, she experiences a serene comfort and familiarity.

    My own favorite "road" picture is of my friend, Josh. We were literally on the road, moving him from San Francisco to Oregon, when he asked me to stop the car and take a picture at one of his favorite spots. And this one incorporates some sky to boot.

  13. I wonder how much of the power of the famous "Napalm Girl" picture derives from the fact that the people are rushing back toward us on a road. Roads seem to read as going into, away, leading us into the picture. This one inverts our normal road-read, vomiting the people back toward us. If they had not been on a road, say if they were on a field running toward us, I think it would be much less powerful. There's something very dissonant about the contradictory forces of the blow-back against a "road forward" urge.

    Here are two versions of the napalm girl: first with her centered, second with a photographer on the right. I had not noticed that there are two versions before searching this morning. What's the story?
  14. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    i think the direction they are running in is important as they are running to, not from, us, they want us to help them. and the road does help illustrate the difference between civilized behaviour (road building) and babaric behaviour.

    (having said that, i think the road is playing a minor role in the scene)
  15. Looking at this week's Landscape thread, notice how weird it is when Wayne Melia's picture truncates the road and drops us off in midair. (And I can't help mentioning that, because I've been watching a bunch of video about the Renaissance, crossed poles jump out at me as symbols for the Crucifixion, though here there are more than three ... In Protestant Dutch art, they would sneak in Catholic imagery by using three skinny trees instead ... )

    In the Landscape thread, look at how a gentle downhill slope and a dramatic sky flavor the David Triplett and Glenn McCreery's road pictures (cue the Aaron Copland music).

    But the one that tickled me and engaged me the most was that of HoofArted (#13) where the road runs side to side. This side-to-side road puts me or us, the viewers, (and, of course HoofArted) off the road. We've either been left behind, excluded (even the cat doesn't stay with us LOL). Or we've chosen to leave and are now enjoying our separateness; or we're taking a predatory, furtive interest. We have designs ... But in any case, the road, to my eye, still owns or dominates the narrative though here it is not mine. A side to side road is a whole different dynamic, and I don't think that's due simply to the usual difference between horizontal and vertical compositional content.

  16. For you, that may be simply true. I would point out, however, that good use of symbolism isn't aggressively apparent or necessarily even understood by the viewer. For example, I think very few people understand or even think about the symbolism of the Vietnam Memorial in DC, but many of them, nevertheless cry when they stand next to it, or at very least feel deep emotion. It simply works.

    Yet Maya Lin knew very well what symbolism she was using to create that response.
  17. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    i agree wholeheartedly and would add not necessarily understood by the photographer
    Last edited: May 21, 2017
  18. I don't see the road in Napalm Girl as a good use of symbolism. It's a documentary photo that a photographer caught, capturing incredibly well and passionately a moment of horror and significance. The symbolism, if there is any, is seen by the viewer, not used by the photographer. He would have photographed her had he been in the right place at the right time and she'd been running through a field. In that case, the photographer would have photographed the field, but he would no more have used the field symbolically than he used the road symbolically. What's the old saying. Sometimes, a road's just a road. I suggest it was just a road to the photographer, and is a symbol to some viewers.

    Good "use" of symbolism isn't necessarily at play just because a viewer thinks a symbol is present.


    David's two examples of Route 66 help me think a bit more about pictures of roads and their effects. First off, I see David's first photo of Route 66 as somewhat iconic (either instead of or in addition to being symbolic, not sure which and not sure it matters to me). Great lighting on the road itself, by the way, speaking of photographic subtlety. I think the road in the first picture of 66 acts much more as a symbol than the road in the second, and that's because it's not generic "road" or "road" per se that's acting as a symbol, it's THAT road, Route 66. So, it's more the IDEA of this particular road that acts to symbolize a patch of American lore. (For example, a cross is different. If we see a cross, we know what it symbolizes without knowing what particular church it belongs to. Whereas, when we see the Route 66 in David's second picture, if David hadn't informed us of its being Route 66, it would be acting as a very different kind of symbol than when we know that info.)

    I don't think roads and skies are symbolic in the same way crosses are or even bananas or cigars can be.
    DavidTriplett likes this.

  19. It's a news photo. News media rely heavily on symbolism; it works.
  20. OK. But how it works for you is different from how it works for me. I don't see Ut as having relied on symbolism in that photo. I see Julie relying on it. Not saying it's wrong to see the road symbolically. Just giving credit where credit is due.

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