photo essay

story

“Nothing like working on a Saturday.” 

He’s called in early in the morning to check on the facilities after last night’s storm. Like most buildings in the area, Eastwood High sits on nearly 100,000 square feet of wet, marshy land, prone to flooding at times like these. 

“Once I got the flash flood warning, I knew I had a doozy of a weekend ahead of me. I fucking knew.”

Frank has to check every hallway, classroom, lounge, and storage closet for damage. His keys jostle in their massive chain as he unlocks each door, muttering in anger. 

“Why build something in marshland? It’s always like this. Couple inches of rain and the place is underwater. What’s the goddamn point?”

Not every room is equally insulated. Some have massive puddles of water and mud while others look almost untouched. Frank works the first floor over four hours before taking a lunch break. 

“The second floor should be a little better, but you never know,” he says between bites. “They’ve been saying they’ll renovate the roof for years now. They never get around to it.” 

The second floor has less mud, but almost as much water damage. At his age, it takes him a few hours. 

When he’s finally done, he cracks his back and lets out a deep sigh. “Time to go home, then.” The anger has dissipated, but there’s still no relief in his voice.

As we get to his home, it becomes clear why. His basement is also flooded.

“Landlord’s also said he’ll fix it, every time the lease is up. It just never happens. But this cleanup is gonna have to wait for tomorrow morning.” He sighs again. “Like I said, a doozy of a weekend.”

process

Given that my object was a key, I felt like my narrative had to include a person who could actually use it. I wasn’t sure whether to pick the excited child or angry person — to be honest, I didn’t feel very creative this whole week — until I talked about the assignment with my husband to see what he thought. We bounced ideas off of each other over dinner, and eventually came with the concept of a school janitor who is angry because he has to clean up a flooded building, only to come home and reveal that his house is flooded even worse. I’d credit Parasite and i’m thinking of ending things as inspirations here.

I wanted to follow the photojournalistic theme here, so the narrative is in third person and the character is talking out loud, as if explaining things to this nameless journalist. Because of that, I felt the need to get fairly realistic with details. For example, I have never set foot inside an American high school, so to figure out how big it should be, I used Google Maps Area Calculator and compared some schools and other large buildings I knew in New York City. I also used name generators to help me decide on a name for the school and for the character.

In the narrative, I tried to keep the reveal a surprise while also sprinkling the vaguest of hints that you could maybe catch on a reread — Frank knew he had a doozy of a weekend, not just a Saturday, because he knows he’ll have to spend Sunday fixing his basement. Like most buildings in the area was meant to give the hint that Frank lives nearby, and that’s why he was the one called in to clean the school (I tried fitting that reasoning somewhere in the narrative, but it didn’t feel natural, so I just omitted it). Frank’s anger about constructing buildings on the area extends to his landlord as well as the school. These details were added while finalizing the narrative itself.

To create the storyboard, I first thought of which “scenes” had the most evocative details. I wanted to show the keys in as many frames as I could, too, but in some cases focusing on the keys would throw off the timing of the storyboard. I ended up writing the list of frames like this:

  1. Outside shot of school, janitor looking small
  2. Janitor on a hallway (keys visible)
  3. Close up of mop
  4. Janitor eating sandwich
  5. Puddles
  6. Cracking back
  7. Key chain opening house door — can see basement window, water flowing in
  8. Janitor sitting on a chair, looking tired. Keys on the table.

I then looked for reference pictures to help me trace the storyboard. I wasn’t able to get all the exact angles I wanted, so some shots ended up a little different. Here’s how it looked before I traced it on Photoshop:

I wanted a realistic but imperfect style, so I picked a pencil brush with a sort of “grain” to it. I kept the backgrounds flat and decided only to paint certain details of Frank’s figure — just enough for him to pop in those frames. Since Frank is seeing things pretty bleakly and not focusing on details right now, I think the style also helps convey his mood and perspective to contribute towards the narrative.

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